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September 5, 1991

A Time for Tears

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Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. ECCLESIASTES 7:3
Solomon, the pleasure king, gives a high endorsement to the value of mourning. “It is better to go to a house of mourning than go to a house of feasting…. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-3).
We don’t live in a culture that gives much credence to mourning. Our TV channels are filled with comedy routines and sitcoms that measure their success in the number of laughs per minute. Solomon loves laughter, but he contends that a wise person is one who balances laughter with mourning. Fools, on the other hand, care only about laughter and pleasure. But constant comedy is less than edifying.
Why is mourning healthy for the heart? First, Solomon says it is part of the natural rhythm of life that God ordains: There’s a time to weep and a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:4). A balance between the two is part of the ebb and flow of life. If we only have one to the exclusion of the other, we are lopsided.
Second, according to Ecclesiastes, there is much to be sad about. Solomon spends a great deal of time documenting oppression, corruption, the taking of bribes, the selfish motives of others, etc. And while he is careful to help us understand that those things should never surprise us, he also makes it clear that they are worth being sad about. Sin and wrongdoing ought to make us feel less than gleeful.
Third, according to Matthew 5:4, people who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted. In the Beatitudes, that kind of mourning revolves not around what others have done wrong, but around what we as individuals have done wrong. In other words, our own lack of righteousness ought to cause us to mourn deeply.
The mourning that Solomon suggests is not the bitterness of unhappiness that is so evident in Ecclesiastes. The mourning that he talks about here is a genuine sense of sadness at the state of the world and the state of our hearts, both of which make God sad. That kind of mourning is healthy, especially when it’s balanced against the laughter and the joy that also ought to be evident in a life with Christ.

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