Jesus Legitimizes Your Sorrow

Lonely alcoholic in a winter jacket sits on the roof in fear covers his face with his hands

Weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).

The second half of Romans 12 is exceedingly practical. You find statements in there about hospitality, love, perseverance, and then this – a command to rejoice, and then this command to weep. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? I mean, what could be easier than to be genuinely happy with someone, and to be genuinely sad with someone else?

But this simple command is easier read than it is followed. It is, in fact, very difficult to weep with those who weep, and there are all kinds of reasons why. Sometimes we are afraid to weep with those who weep because to do so would mean actually entertaining the pain that others are experiencing. When we do that, we are faced with the uncomfortable reality that this this could happen to me. So we don’t engage. Not really. We do other things though.

We send cards, we make meals, we sometimes attend funerals. But it’s possible to do those things and yet not truly “enter in.” And when that happens, we are perhaps doing something worse than not expressing any sympathy at all. We are delegitimizing someone else’s pain.

Perhaps you’ve been on the other end of that. Maybe you’ve been the one suffering and feeling the loss. And perhaps some well-intentioned person, though a pithy statement or a single comment, inadvertently made you feel like there was something wrong with your sadness. That there was something unspiritual about your sorrow. That there was something weak about your tears. After all…

  • She’s in heaven now.
  • God is working all things for good.
  • He’s still on the throne.

All true statements. And yet mistimed for the moment. Truths like these are meant to be a soothing balm, not a jackhammer. And when they come at the wrong time, they serve not to comfort a person in their grief but instead to delegitimize someone’s pain. But not Jesus. Jesus does the opposite.

In John 11 we see Him with people in their grief. We see him with Mary’s finger in his face making the bold statement that if Jesus had come, if He had acted, then her brother would not be dead. But Jesus didn’t. He stayed where He was, though He knew Lazarus was ill. And when He finally did show up, Mary’s brother had been in the grave for a number of days. Now if ever there was a moment for the theological jackhammer, surely this was it. Jesus could have spoken any number of truths into this situation. He might have, for example, reminded Mary that He had bigger things to worry about than her brother. He might have told her that He wasn’t just interested in saving one person from death, but rather all who would trust in Him. And He might have gone on to say that He was, in about 5 minutes, going to turn this funeral into a party when He spoke life into the darkness of Lazarus’ tomb.

Again, all true statements. But Jesus chooses a different road. And in so doing, He legitimizes Mary’s pain. He doesn’t try and explain it away. There are no pithy statements and trite expressions of sympathy here. There is, instead, two words that communicate inexhaustible grace:

Jesus wept.

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?

What a beautiful picture for those who even today know the pain of loss and the heartbreak of despair. What a wonderful experience to follow a Jesus who does not bark 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. In so doing, He legitimizes our pain with His own tears.

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.

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