…Yes, but then He raised
Lazarus from the grave…
I am noticing something of a trend.
Whenever there is a tragic circumstance, Christians are increasingly posting on Facebook the two word response, “Jesus wept.” And I completely believe that He does. In fact, personally, my “Emmanuel” Christology (“God with us”) revolves around the absolute truth of this Gospel fact. God’s full identification with us in the human condition through the incarnation is the biggest single reason why I am a Christian by conviction and not just by acculturation.
I deeply and desperately believe that God became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus Christ (John 1:14), sharing our flesh and blood, facing all of the same threats and fears that we must face in this life (Hebrews 2:14-18), so that He can fully sympathize with us in our struggles, and give us the confidence we need to be able to draw near to God’s throne of grace to receive mercy and find help in our times of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). And so, while I believe that “Jesus weeps” when we, or the world suffers, I nevertheless don’t believe that it is, all by itself, enough. It’s only a partial Biblical truth. It’s an insufficiently Christian response.
Peter Kreeft, the very fine Roman Catholic Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, discussed this as the question of what it is that we really need when our car careens in a snowbank. He argued that while it’s wonderful to have a good friend come and sit beside us in our cold car, sharing our discomfort while we wait, that what we really need in that moment is for someone in a tow truck to come along and pull us out of the mess that we’ve gotten ourselves into! Now, if that tow truck driver is courteous and compassionate, then all the better! But what we really need in that moment is not somebody’s sympathy, but their specific and concrete help at the point of our very real need. And that’s why I find that the “Jesus wept” response, as valuable and as true as I honestly believe it is, is just not enough. It’s less than the Gospel.
In context, right after we’re told in John 11:35 that “Jesus wept,” we’re told that Jesus ordered the stone to be moved (11:39) so that Lazarus could get up and get out (11:43). The whole setting of this story about Christ’s tears were His prior claim to be the resurrection and the life (11:25). It was through His tears that Jesus Christ promised that those of us who would believe in Him, though we die yet shall we live, and that whoever lives and believes in Him shall never die (11:25-26). This is what I think Paul had in mind when he told the Thessalonian Christians that because of their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they could “grieve hopefully” (I Thessalonians 5:13).
To say that “Jesus wept” is to grieve, and that’s a wonderful heartfelt response to human suffering. It’s humanizing and compassionate; a completely commendable reaction. But to always be clear that it was through those tears that Jesus Christ confronted and then defeated death by raising Lazarus from the dead is to “up the spiritual ante” of Christianity significantly. It is to consciously step out onto the Gospel terrain of “grieving hopefully,” and I wonder… even worry… about why it is that so many of my Christian brothers and sisters fail to go here these days in the things that they post online in response to the suffering and sadness of the world.
Paul told the Romans that he was not ashamed of the Gospel because he knew personally that it was the power of God to “save,” that is, Paul believed that the Gospel is how God in Jesus Christ heals what is broken, fixes what’s gone wrong, and answers the painful questions that confuse and crush us as human beings. To forget to mention this as Christians in our response to the human suffering that we see and experience, it seems to me, is to flinch at the very moment when the Gospel needs to be heard most loudly and clearly. It is to fumble the ball on the goal line.
Harvey Cox wrote about how, for the longest time, he had a bad case of “Christological heart-failure.” What he meant by this provocative term was his general reluctance to talk about Jesus Christ in settings where Jesus Christ was not well known, or among people who had not already embraced Him by faith. But it was “those people” who finally called him out on this. If he was really a Christian, they told him, someone who was truly trusting God in Christ with his own deep hurts and highest hopes, then why didn’t he have the courage of his convictions and tell them about it? People who need hope, people who are looking for hope, want to know where you found your hope if you’ve got some. By failing to talk about Jesus Christ, Harvey Cox was told by his non-Christians friends and acquaintances that he was failing to tell them the very thing that made him who he was, and that they found most interesting about him.
So, go ahead and let people know that Jesus Christ Himself wept when His heart was personally and powerfully touched by the anguish of the world. That’s good to know. Just don’t stop there as if sympathy is all that there is to Christianity – as if all we have to offer a hurting world is a God who sits beside us in the waiting rooms and at the gravesides of life, patting our hand and saying over and over, “Ain’t it awful… Ain’t it just awful.” Yes, Jesus wept, but then Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, and that’s what Lazarus really needed. DBS +