Lord, have mercy.
More than 20 dead after a man opened fire in a small church in Sutherland Springs, TX. And here we all are with a lot of questions. Questions like how could this happen. Questions of why. Questions of what should be done to keep it from happening again.
Here we are again.
And then there are questions behind those questions. Questions about God. About His protection. About His sovereignty. About His goodness. About where He is, and where He was when this terrible thing happened. And as I’m trying to process through all these questions, like many of us are, I’m reminded of a woman who also had questions.
She and her family were friends of Jesus. Close friend in fact. So when her brother got sick, they sent word because, after all, Jesus could do something about this situation if anyone could. But the text in John 11 tells us clearly that Jesus stayed where he was. He stayed there, in fact, until Lazarus was clearly dead. And then He came.
Mary had questions. Real questions. Gut-level questions for the Son of God, and her questions sound a lot like ours:
What about my brother? Where were you? Why didn’t you stop this?
So how does Jesus handle that finger in His face? And how does He interact with a woman weeping in the dust? As Mary collapsed at Jesus’ feet, the text says He was “deeply moved in his spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Isn’t that nice. Deeply moved in spirit and troubled. I’ll admit it—I’d rather have some miraculous healing action springing from His fingertips than a “moved” Jesus. But there’s something else present in that phrase.
Other translations of that verse use stronger wording. Many record that sadness was not the only emotion that Jesus felt; they indicate that He felt anger—and not just any anger. “Deeply moved in his spirit and troubled” carries a sense of especially strong anger, even indignation and rage. Why was Jesus angry?
Maybe He was mad at Mary. Who was she, after all, to question what He did or did not do? Didn’t she understand that He had a mission, and that meant hard decisions? In fact, wasn’t she calling into question the very character of God? Besides, in about five minutes He was going to turn the funeral into a party—but there she was, crying on the ground.
But I don’t buy that. I don’t think Jesus was mad at the grieving sister, mainly because He wasn’t just angry—He was also moved. Deeply. Profoundly. Jesus knows, better than we do, how broken this world is. The devastating effects of sin. The extreme depravity that runs rampant in God’s good creation. He knows it. And it makes Him angry. And I think that’s why, as we see in verse 35, He wept.
In His tears, you can almost hear His explanation: “I am so sorry that it has to be this way.”
Can you fathom that? The God of the universe cried. It’s heart-stopping to think of. And it sort of makes you ask what the bigger miracle of this passage is—is it a Jesus who can raise the dead, or a Jesus who weeps alongside His friends even though He knows He’s going to do so?
The tears of Jesus are meaningful. But the other thing that was meaningful to me was what Jesus didn’t say. He makes no effort to justify Himself. He doesn’t bother to give Mary a lesson on the importance of sacrifice for the sake of God. He doesn’t launch into a theological treatise about what is really important in the universe. And He doesn’t make some pithy statement about how everything will be OK in heaven someday. He simply weeps. Sometimes the tears are better than the explanation.
That’s the kind of Jesus we follow. He is not one who simply barks orders onto the battlefield of life, telling us to go here or there, do this or that. We do not follow an ivory tower Jesus.
The Christ we follow knows the full range of human experience. He is not an isolated God, but one intimately acquainted with the pain of the human condition. He is Immanuel—God with us. We may rest assured that whatever situation we find ourselves in, God is emotionally involved there too. When we weep at the death of a loved one, our Jesus weeps as well. When we rejoice because all is well, His shouts of joy eclipse our own. And when we fall in the dirt before Him—so sure of theological facts, yet emotionally destroyed by the circumstances of this sinful world—He falls down and weeps with us.
This is our God. This is the God who knew the end before the beginning. He is the One who knew the resurrection before the crucifixion. He is the One who knew the glory before the pain. Because He knows those things, He can make grand promises about the eternal glory that awaits all those who are His. Yet His response to us in the pain of the human condition is not, “Just believe! It will all be over soon. This is nothing compared to what awaits you.” Instead, His response is to walk through the pain with us. His response is to offer His abiding presence in the form of the Holy Spirit until the day when God receives the glory He deserves.
At the end of this life He will still be there with us, but we will be seated together beside the throne of the Father, scarcely able to remember those times when He knelt in the dirt beside us and wept.
But until that time, maybe sometimes what we need more than just another explanation, another cliché, or another promise of heaven . . . is tears. Tears of the One who understands. Tears of the One who empathizes. Tears of the One who doesn’t just tell us that everything will be OK in the end, but of the One who feels our pain as deeply as we do.