On being a "Mourning Person"
Maybe you've seen those slick motivational posters that dot the landscape of corporate America. Pictures of climbers, runners, hang gliders, each with a single word in 60 point font, with a small typeface offering a definition right below it. The intention, of course, is for people who are walking from the fax machine to the water fountain to see this and be inspired towards creativity, or excellence, or productivity, or teamwork, with the end that everybody wins, especially the company.
It's all well and good, but recently I've been pondering why we haven't yet seen a product line mirroring the concept, but embodying the wisdom of Jesus as articulated in the sermon on the mount. The large words would be: Poverty - Hunger - Mourning - Persecution - Meekness. Under each one would be a specific promise of blessing. Of course, this will never happen because the wisdom of God isn't wisdom in this world; it's foolishness. It's not only foolish because these are things to be avoided in the general course of one's life. It's foolish because God's wisdom is so untidy, so defiant of systemization, so resistant to being reduced to a poster.
Of course, God invites us to make the pursuit of wisdom a chief aim in our life, because sound wisdom will no doubt become the fertile soil out from which a fruitful and well lived life is born. But God is also clear, in many places throughout the Bible regarding two things:
1. There's more than one kind of wisdom. There's the wisdom of God and the wisdom of this world. The wisdom of this world comes in numerous posters, numerous pursuits, ranging from disengaged cynicism, to an unabashed lust for power and privilege, and everything in between. But whatever the color, the consistent story running throughout the Bible is that this human wisdom is sinking sand, is unable to satisfy, is vapor, emptiness, not profitable.
2. The other kind of wisdom available to us is God's wisdom. But there are problems with God's wisdom. Because it flows out of a dynamic and ongoing relationship with creator of the world it can't be reduced to posters, or even nice little systems. There's a time for everything, we're told, and it's the wise person who knows what time it is: love or hate? peace or war? laughter or tears?
The other crazy thing about God's wisdom is that it leads to a robust life, but by no means are we promised that it will lead to comfortable, or even a long life. In fact, God is quite clear in declaring that wise living has every chance of leading to some pain and mourning. This is because the wisdom of God leads us to confession (which is painful) and solidarity with the suffering of this world (which is painful) and a humble acknowledgment that in certain circumstances, there's nothing we can so or do to help another person choose wisely (and this is painful too). Further, wisdom will ask of us obedience, and sacrifice, which will clearly push us out of our comfort zones and might cost us our lives.
But the history of the church, from the apostles, down through the Celtic saints, to St. Francis, the radical reformers, right up to Desmund Tutu and the present day, testifies that a life lived wisely is a life lived fully. Joy, hope, courage, sacrifice, purpose - these are our inheritance when we step into the story God is writing.
All of this, though, requires the red-pill, requires facing reality courageously and responding by walking further into the light. But sometimes that initial dose of truth can be a bit shocking, so different than the motivational posters and preaching with which we've become familiar. That's the danger in preaching through Ecclesiastes. It's like going on a de-tox diet. There'll be pain before healing, mourning before comfort. It's the way of so much in life... including God's wisdom.