Delivered in Montrouis, Haiti, in October 2016, after Hurricane Matthew
In the only sermon the Bible records Jesus preaching, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus began by saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Today, we see that mourning throughout Haiti. It burns within our breasts. It tastes bitter at the back of our throats. It threatens to consume us, to turn us bitter and angry.
How can one see so many broken homes, so much pain and destruction, so much sorrow without becoming bitter and angry?
Haiti is mourning. Les Cayes is mourning. Montouis is mourning. We here in this church are mourning friends and family who are lost, homes that were shattered by the winds, crops that were lost — so much suffering today and the fear of so much suffering to come.
I hardly know how to speak here today, knowing how much you all are hurting. What can I say to you to bring you peace?
I think today of Job, after the house had crashed down and killed all his sons and daughters, and I wonder how, as scripture tells us, he could have fallen to the ground and worshiped God.
“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away,” he said. “Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
I must confess that when I read these verses, I feel bitter about the loss of Job’s family, much as I fight against the bitterness I want to feel for the suffering here in Haiti.
Job had always been faithful to God. Shouldn’t God have been faithful to Job?
I struggle not to feel angry that God allowed such a tragedy. And I even feel angry that Job stopped his mourning to shout praise to the God he had followed in obedience.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,” he said. “And naked shall I return there. The LORD has given and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
How can this possibly be Job’s response to such grief?
But the suffering of this faithful servant of God was not yet over.
He soon found himself covered in sores, and the scripture tells us his mourning was great:
“For my groaning comes at the sight of my food, And my cries pour out like water. For what I fear comes upon me, And what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”
Many of us here today understand that level of grief. Many of us understand the suffering of Job’s heart. Many of us today know the kind of mourning that Job experienced in that moment.
Even Job’s friends were unable to comfort him. They thought he must have done something to deserve God’s wrath.
But he had done no such thing. He had been faithful to his Lord. After all, that’s why Satan had chosen to test Job’s faith, rather than the faith of one of his friends or neighbors.
And I struggle today with this thought: Job was a righteous man. He didn’t deserve to be punished for his righteousness.
So what was God doing when he said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power.”
What sense can we make of this scripture? Where can we, who have seen so much suffering, find hope?
“Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
How can we even make sense of such a statement on a day like today? How can it be true that those who mourn are blessed?
Either Job had lost his mind because of his grief, or he knew something important, something we should try to understand here today.
There are other examples in scripture of people who blessed the name of God in the middle of terrible events. One of my favorites is King David.
We think of David as the giant-killer, the shepherd boy who became a great king. But he was a man who faced terrible loss at different times in his life, and he did not mind baring his soul in the midst of his suffering.
“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy,” he wrote. “He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
What David and Job both understood is that God hears our cries. God understands. God loves us. God has promised to sustain us. God has promised that He will heal our land if we will turn to Him. God has promised us salvation through His son, Jesus Christ, the very one who said, “Blessed are those who mourn.”
Jesus loves us. He loves us so much that he gave up his heavenly crown and exchanged it for a crown of thorns. He loves us so much that, instead of being lifted up on an earthly throne, he chose to be lifted up on a Roman cross. He loves us so much that he took our spiritual death for himself so that those who call on Him, those who confess their sins and follow Him in faith, might have eternal life. He loves us so much that He overcame death and Hell and even now is preparing a place in Heaven for those who follow Him.
And as He watched His only son die on that cross on Calvary, God surely must have mourned. He must have mourned for the suffering of His son. He must have mourned over Jesus’ death. He must have mourned for mankind, for the people that Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, had come to offer his body as a sacrifice.
But God must also have had hope. His hope was a certain knowledge that Jesus’ work had been done. That Jesus’ sacrifice would be for a purpose. And that the purpose of that sacrifice would be to redeem sinful man, to bring us into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Job was a righteous man, but he was also a sinner who needed God’s grace to save him. We are also sinners, and it is only through God’s grace, manifested in the sacrifice of a spotless lamb — Jesus — that we can have hope. It is only through that grace that we can look past the storm and say, “Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Looking around this city — looking around this nation — today, I see a people desperate, as we all are, for hope.
Jesus is the way to that hope. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the way.
As I have seen the suffering in Haiti this week, I cannot say that I understand why God would have allowed it, but I can say this: Our only hope in the midst of such suffering is in Him.
There is no government, no president, no priest, no preacher who has the power to promise us that those who suffer will be blessed. There is only the God who breathed the universe into being, the God who “set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not violate His command.”
If you’re looking for hope today, that is where you will find it.
“Blessed be the name of the LORD.”