Posted by: Philip Rushton | September 20, 2011

“Aching Visionaries”

“Some Christians seem to imagine that, especially if they are filled with the Spirit, they must wear a perpetual grin on their face and be continuously boisterous and bubbly. How unbiblical can one become?” John Stott, The Sermon on the Mount.

This week, during our series on the beatitudes, we looked at Jesus’ statement “blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” This particular beattitude is something that I think we struggle to affirm in our Christian culture. As John Stott’s quote articulates, we often do not know what to do with grief in light of the message of hope we believe in. On the one hand we are called “to be Joyful always,” as Paul suggests in 1 Thess 5. Yet, this message of hope in the Lord, is not meant to rule out the validity of lament and grief when it is appropriate. A quick glance at the psalms reminds us that honest lament is a huge part of biblical spirituality. More then half of the psalms include some type of lament.

Nevertheless, Jesus statement about the mourners remains controversial. For he not only validates mourning, he considers it blessed. Why might he say this? As I mentioned last week, the word blessed, means ‘lucky’ or even ‘congratulations.’ It is not a subjective feeling of being happy, but an objective pronouncement from somebody else. So why does Jesus congratulate the mourners? Why are they the blessed ones from his perspective?

Nicholoas Wolterstorff, in his book Lament for a Son, has a profound answer to this question. He suggests that the mourners are blessed because they are “Aching Visionaries.” In other words, the mourners are those who recognize that the world is not the way it should be. They have a vision for something better, and they long for the time when God will make all things new. The mourners are blessed, then, because they have an accurate perception of reality. They recognize that sin, death, and tragedy are symptoms of a fallen humanity. They ache for God’s kingdom of of peace and reconciliation to be fully realized.

The other reason why I think Jesus declares the mourners blessed, is because “they will be comforted.” Throughout the gospels accounts we see that Jesus has a heart for the mourners. He weeps with Mary and Martha when Lazarus dies, he weeps over Jerusalem because they are lot like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus cares for those who are in distress. The hope for the mourners is that Jesus promises to be present with them. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:5, “for just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”

How might we create a culture where it is okay to mourn?

How do we affirm the importance of mourning and still remain “joyful always?”


  1. Very timely to read this as I mourn the loss of our beautiful St Matthew’s church and realize that the world is not the way it should be. Your words are very comforting.

  2. Wolterstorff’s is a book rich in pathos and full of truth and beauty in the face of loss. I love that term—”aching visionaries.”

    I appreciate this reflection, Phil, even if I’m unsure how to answer your questions… Part of validating mourning would seem to involve acknowledging that death is a part of our existence. We are not very good at this in our youth-glorifying, death-denying culture. It sounds morbid, but maybe one of the tasks of the church might be to remind people that they are “but grass.” Or somehow consistently steer us toward the “accurate perception of reality” that we try so hard to avoid…

    • Thanks Ryan,

      I suspect that we probably need to understand what joy, in the biblical sense, really is. For Paul it seems to be rooted in a hope that transcends hardship. Romans 8 comes to mind, where his hope for the future reality of God’s reign sustains him through his present hardships. I was also reading through 1 Corinthians 15 earlier this week, where Paul roots his joy in the hope of resurrection, not in an empty pursuit of worldly prosperity. I think mourning the reality of brokenness and clinging to the hope of redemption are more closely tied then we might think.

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