A skillful poet once imagined Adam’s first evening in the Garden of Eden. He described the scene as Adam began to notice that the sun was sinking toward the horizon, that the shadows were growing long, that the light was getting dim. The first day was becoming the first night and Adam didn’t know what to expect—he had only ever known daylight. The poet imagined that as evening turned to dusk and as dusk faded into twilight, Adam might have assumed that darkness would pull a black veil across all the wonders of creation.
But Adam should not have been concerned. Here is what the poet says:
Yet ’neath a curtain of translucent dew,
Bathed in the rays of the great setting Flame,
Hesperus [Venus] with the Host of Heaven came,
And lo! Creation widened on Man’s view.
When the light faded and the skies went dark, Adam learned that darkness did not actually conceal his view of creation but revealed it all the more because it unveiled the beauty of the night sky. The same sun that had opened Adam’s eyes to the flowers and trees, the birds and fish, had blinded his eyes to the stars and planets, the galaxies and constellations. It had to be dark for Adam to truly see.
Jesus once said something that sounds every bit as counter-intuitive: “Blessed are those who mourn.” He pronounced divine favor upon those whose souls have been saddened, God’s own approval upon those whose hearts have been broken. The path to joy does not avoid sorrow, according to Jesus, but leads directly through it. But not just any sorrow will do. Joy comes to those who experience a particular kind of sorrow—a deep remorse over their depraved hearts and defiled hands.
Such broken-hearted people stand in stark contrast to those who surround them. Each of us will some day be laid to rest in a cemetery, each of our lives encapsulated in the little dash that sits between the date of our birth and the date of our death. And so many are content to spend that brief threescore and ten mocking God and pursuing carnal pleasure, rejoicing in the things he hates and abhorring the things he loves. Nero sparked a fire that would consume his city, then laughed and played as he watched it all burn. And just so, the people of the kingdom of this world have set their lives ablaze and now watch with delight as they are consumed by it. “Eat, drink, and be merry, laugh and pursue every pleasure, for tomorrow we die.”
The blessings of this world are upon the mockers and laughers. “Blessed are those who are happy and who enjoy nothing but pleasure; blessed are those who are unfettered to pursue every desire of their hearts; blessed are those who are most authentically themselves and answer to no one else; blessed are those who laugh from the cradle to the grave.” Such is the benediction of the kingdom of this world.
But the blessing of the kingdom of heaven is upon those who have been deeply saddened. Blessed are those who mourn their sin, for they shall be comforted. Content are those who are aggrieved by their iniquity, for they shall be consoled. Happy are those who are sad that they are evil-doers, for their tears shall be dried. Joyful are those who are downcast over their rebellion, for they shall be raised up. The favor of God is upon those whose eyes are awash with tears, whose lives have been shattered, whose hearts have been broken—broken by their sin and sinfulness.
Just like the sun needed to set and the light needed to fade before Adam could see the glories of the heavens opened up before him, those who want to know spiritual light must first know spiritual darkness. To know the hand of comfort we need to know the pain of sorrow. To know the bright light of God’s blessing we must first know the dark shadow of our own depravity. For it is only when we admit who we truly are that God reveals what he truly loves to do, only when we admit ourselves to be lost that reveals himself as the one who saves.
Inspired by In Green Pastures by J.R. Miller