Grief: “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.”
My Savior knows grief. Millions of His beloved people have rejected him unto death. They have traded beauty for ashes, depthless intimacy for loneliness, and burning love for searing hellfire. Jesus experiences grief when people reject to the last His offer of grace . . . when His own followers betray him with sin . . . and He has experienced the ultimate grief: total separation from the Father.
Though Jesus, like us, has suffered through the loss of loved ones, known abandonment, and experienced betrayal – I’ve often wondered if He can really enter into the trials of my life beyond a disconnected awareness resulting from His omniscience. With that question burning in my mind as I navigate the valleys of my life, I went to Scripture and found what I believe is an answer.
John 11:1-44 (ESV) is paraphrased below:
Now a certain man named Lazarus, the brother Mary and her sister Martha, was ill. Lazarus’s sisters sent a message to Jesus, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
Now Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then Jesus told his disciples plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.
After speaking with Jesus, Martha said to her sister Mary, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, Mary rose quickly and went to Jesus. When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When Jesus had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Let’s be real: there is so much to discover from this passage. I paraphrased it here to highlight one of the lessons I’ve learned from it. However, I must encourage my readers to review the passage in its entirety and glean all that it has to offer. With that said…
When I read this passage for the hundred time, I was startled by something I’ve never noticed before. Jesus delayed His response to Mary and Martha’s request so that a miracle could be performed for the benefit of His disciples, but He delayed that same miracle to share in the grief of his beloved.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.
[Then] Jesus wept.
– John 11:33, 35 (ESV)
Confronted with this truth, I must confess that I’ve accused Jesus. You don’t understand, Lord. I know you love me –I know you think you’ve been there – and I know that you technically know everything. But you haven’t walked over these coals like I have. You just don’t understand.
And, dear reader, I’m compelled to repent. Jesus does “get it.” He doesn’t just know of grief; He is intimately acquainted with it . . . and He is intimately acquainted with the grief of His friends. My grief – and yours.
Even when I’ve been oblivious to it, the all-powerful God of the universe has actually paused to experience my grief with me. I’m humbled and overwhelmed just thinking about it. And I’m awed by His might because somehow He manages to tarry with me while remaining actively involved in the greatest and minutest detail of every life in the entire universe.
(Ironically – and beautifully – this knowledge of God’s tenderness toward us in grief makes me want to rejoice. Oh, how He loves us!)
I realize, too, that I’ve been wrong about something else. I used to think that God has a “human side” . . . that He could perhaps have a faint grasp on my grief and ignorance because Jesus once walked this earth as a man. But God doesn’t experience grief because He’s like a man. Men are capable of experiencing grief because they’re like God.
The Father’s heart for us is brimming and overflowing with love and compassion, and all of us who have experienced grief can find rest, empathy, and comfort in the One who grieves with us.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” – Revelation 21:1-5