Should I Mourn? An Old and Proper Question

This unusual question was asked by some young men. They were sent from Bethel to ask the priests and prophets at Jerusalem concerning a liturgical custom (Zech. 7). This question arose because of conditions in the land. This was a time of joy. The temple had been rebuilt. The city walls were restored. Israel as a people had been reunited. Bethel came again to Jerusalem.

One might be a little suspicious of this delegation. These men were from Bethel, formerly idolatrous, And were they not of Syrian lineage? From such a source one might expect a question concerning a change in liturgy. Their question went something like, “Isn’t it time to change the time-worn liturgy of the church?” (Zech. 7:3). Maybe we feel a little uneasy with such a question from such a delegation. Mixed marriages generally bring problems into the church.

On closer scrutiny, however, we find something commendable in these men. They were not in any way rebels or revolutionaries in the church. They were polite and followed the proper ecclesiastical channels. They went to the right place and the right authorities. They did not by-pass the priests and prophets at Jerusalem. They asked seriously whether it was still proper to mourn at a time for joy. Why practice what seemed irrelevant?

How would the leaders answer that question? Would the answer be: That depends on which agegroup you belong to? If you are of the older agegroup you will keep the traditions handed down. If you are of the younger generation you will welcome a change. Some would aver that this question properly depends on the generation gap.

But this question was not one concerning parents versus children, or older people versus youth. It concerned the rite of fasting and mourning, which was observed by everyone. The answer came from an unexpected quarter. It came directly from the Lord. And it went right to the heart of the matter. By rhetorical questions the Lord pin-pointed the real reason for this question. All parts of a church‘s liturgy were meaningless unless the worshippers used them in faith. And since Israel did not really practice the ritual of mourning and fasting from the heart it was an empty form. Why keep an empty form? We can understand and appreciate this question from Bethel Let’s throw out old meaningless traditions and introduce some new and more meaningful ceremonies.

The old question of the Bethel delegation persists today. Surely, it comes in different (arms, but we do hear in our modern questions the Bethel question, “Should I mourn?” What so many are asking is, in the light of the Caspers assurance that in Christ Jesus all our sins are washed away, what is there left to mourn about? Can we still then say with our old forms that we “Abhor and humble ourselves before God” because of our sins? (Old forms for Confession of Faith and the Lord’s Supper), or pray to God to forgive us “miserable sinners” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 51)? Some have actually gone so far as to count it an insult to God to ask for forgiveness, seeing our sins past, present and future, have all been nailed to the cross, and are no longer remembered by God. Others feel that to mourn for sins can only bring one uncertainty of salvation. One leader tried to comfort a member by asking, “Do you believe your sins are all forgiven? You do? Why are you then any further concerned about sin?”

On first thought that might sound good. We are called to be a rejoicing people, rejoicing in the God of our salvation. Arent we, by being disturbed by sin, casting a shadow over God’s eternal sovereign grace? Should we not discard the bad tradition of looking so much at sin? That, we are told, has produced much joylessness among Reformed believers. We must live more in the awareness of sins forgiven.

The Test

These arguments may sound plausible, but we must test them by asking whether they conform to Scripture and experience. According to that test, should I mourn or abhor myself because of my sin? And if I should can I still live a joyful life, thankful to God for His great forgiveness?

Should I mourn for my sin? Yes, I should. Because as a child of God, whom the Lord has given freely so great a deliverance, I come far short of serving Him as I should. In the measure that I see how great a price my Saviour paid for my ransom, in that measure I will praise God and rejoice in His sovereign electing love that has set me free. But in that measure I will also be sorry for sinning against the God and Father Whom I have learned to love dearly. Every truly born-again believer understands the apostle’s deep sorrow for sin as he expressed that in Romans 7. We must listen to the heartrending weeping of David or Peter when they realized how they had sinned against a loving God and Saviour, to better understand real sorrow for sin. And the more I try to serve my God and Father thankfully the more I will be troubled by my sins and learn to abhor myself because of them.

Living a joyful Christian life isn’t simple. Only those who realize that sin provokes a loving Father, can deeply experience the Father‘s forgiveness and rejoice in it. Sin deeply troubles God‘s children. The closer they walk with Him the deeper will be their sorrow for sin. In the measure that I love my wife I will be sorry for hurting her. And in the measure that I love my parents I will be sorry for doing that which offends them. The same principle applies to our walk with our merciful God and Father.

A Deficiency in Our New liturgies and in Our lives

Seeing this suggests other questions. Why do our newest forms omit calling members to a confession of self-abhorence because of indwelling sin? Is it because we no longer live that closely to God, or that sin is not that real because God does not seem that real? And then there are other related questions, such as: Is it because sin doesn’t trouble us any more that we can sin with such impunity? Is the Church today facing one crisis after another because the members no longer live a repentant life before God? We need but take notice of what we allow today and still while thinking that we can be good Christians. Our modern problems run the whole gamit of the world‘s life-style. We must contend with drinking, moral looseness, lack of interest in Bible study, careless church attendance, sport madness, dancing, etc. etc. And in the face of it the church softens in its demands for confession concerning knowledge of sin. It seems to me that this must be the the cause of many of our problems. We must return to a firm stand against sin and call men to a genuine repentence for their sin. We must again become a church that takes sin seriously because we love our God for His eternal love to us.

Our many problems have come upon us subtly. As I see it, the modern world spirit, encouraged by a time of affluence, has pervaded the life of the church. Able to enter into many areas of art, music, learning, entertainment, etc. (that affluence made possible), many church members largely rejected the sober, stern, puritan real and somewhat legal lifestyle that was still a part of the Christian life. In a time of poverty and harsh living conditions such a self-disciplined Christian life might fit, but now there were new things that could be enjoyed. Slowly we yielded ground, rationalizing our yieldings, and excusing them on the basis of the supposedly too severe and cold and loveless life-style of our forefathers. Granting that perhaps there was too much fear of the world on the part of our forefathers (which has never yet been proved), we have swung over to the opposite extreme of adopting a life-style that is almost entirely that of the world. Almost everything is tolerated among us as a legitimate area of Christian behavior. So today we mingle with the ,world, enjoying its life and all it has to offer, while at the same time trying to be joyful Christians. Since that cannot be done, we (wanting nothing of a teaching or life that emphatically opposes sin) experience unrest and joylessness.

The Remedy

As I see it, that is our deepest problem today. We must begin again to take sin seriously because it of. fends our only God and Saviour. We must begin again to teach children very early in life the death—bringing power of sin, the subtle allurement of a world involved in the tragedy of sin. We must show them what the world is as it laughs its way into hell. And we have to lead them, also with our own example of devoted living, to see that we hate sin and fear it because we love the Lord and seek to serve Him. We must get rid of our common tolerance of sin and learn wholeheartedly to “Abstain from every form of evil” (I Thess. 5:22). If we do not do so we and our children will continue to live joyless lives. We will do, as so many are doing today, as the Israelites of old did, “So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations . . .” (II Kings 17:33). We must learn again wholeheartedly to pray the prayer with our forefathers “we confess to our humiliation and to the praise of Thy mercy that our transgressions are innumerable, and that our debt is so great that we cannot ever begin to repay. We are not worthy to be called Thy children, nor to lift up our eyes heavenward to Thee in prayer” (Christian Prayers, New Psalter Hymnal, p. 181).

May our God grant us the grace to return to a genuine fear and hatred of sin and a heartfelt abhorrence of ourselves before a holy Cod, as we seek to serve Him, the God of our salvation, with our whole lives. Only in that way can we experience again the favor of the Lord and the true joy of His service. Only in that way can we rescue our denomination from the certain ruin our present worldly living will bring. This is the way in which we must earnestly pray and work for the peace of Zion.

Cecil Tuininga is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church at Grande Prairie and La Grace, Alberta, Canada.