The sun’s rays rushed through the ground level window in a small basement room, exposing suspended dust. The decibel level of the young children in the room had far exceeded that of an inside voice and was sharply echoing off of the painted white cinderblock walls. The young teacher worked her best to corral the rambunctious children. Sunday School. Lynchburg, Virginia.
The faces of the children in the memory have long faded from my recognition. The echo of the loud voices has diminished from the corridors of my memory years ago. I cannot tell you who was sitting next to me in the classroom. Whatever snack I would have quickly devoured that morning was forgotten just as quickly as it was eaten. My Sunday school teacher’s voice, face, and name have blurred into an unrecognizable apparition. The details of this particular morning in Sunday school was wiped from the memory bank of my mind long ago; there is one aspect of this specific day, however, that has managed to hold on for dear life despite the onslaught of time’s tenacious scheme to expunge the memory. I memorized my first Bible verse sitting in the miniature blue chairs of the class (the plastic ones with the single square cutout in the back). Two infallible words rattled my eardrums. Originally scribbled almost two millennia prior to that moment, in a language I was oblivious of, by a man whose name I barely knew; these words hooked themselves like talons in my mind. Jesus Wept.
Death precedes life. It’s an unusual paradox for the mind to wrap itself around. How is it possible for the cessation of life too in some way be the forerunner of life itself? (And we thought the “What came first, the chicken, or the egg” question is complicated!) However, Embryologists are quite familiar with the concept because when a human body is in the process of development, cells must die continually. That’s right, you’re alive today because a mass genocide of cells has been taking place in your body since you were an embryo. Had cells not died: your organs would have never developed, your lungs would have never inflated, and the rhythmic beat of your heart would have never reverberated. Death precedes life (J. Shan Young, 2012).
The greatest example of this concept took place in a single frame of time. My favorite short poem beautifully encapsulates the moment: “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In our place condemned He stood” (Phillip Bliss). The masterpiece of Creation, God’s Mona Lisa, vehemently stared into the eyes of his Creator. The rough hands of a Roman soldier met the gentle hands of the Creator; these were the hands of God; hands used to form him from dust.
Created creature; crucified Creator.
The clang of three nails; sin firmly bound. The lictor’s scourge rent skin; exposed love. Blood poured; dirt kissed. Oxygen’s creator is now suffocating. It is finished. Death.
When His lungs were robbed of air and his heart ceased to pound in his chest, the first inkling of eternal life began to take form. It was the death of Jesus Christ on a cross, at the hand of his favorite creation, which ensured eternal life. Death precedes life.
John 11:35 records the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” The context of the account tells us that Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, has died. He was a friend of Jesus. The family was in the midst of grieving when Jesus finally came to them. He shared their grief. The Greek word for wept in the verse is dakruō. It entails the perfect summary of one who is grieving the loss of a loved one: to sob, to shed tears, convulsed with grief. “The Creator himself is not spared from the assault of creation’s sorrow” (John Mark Comer, 2011).
I believe that so often in the church we focus on the divinity of Jesus (as we should) but in the process we forget the humanity of Jesus. He was a real human being that was born and lived in our finite perspective of time. The Bible even notes that he was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…” (Isaiah 53:3). He knew pain. Met grief. After all, Jesus wept.
Grief, loss, anxiety, depression… along with the plethora of other words that attempt to symbolize in a breath what the aching, hurting soul of man is feeling. In John 11 Lazarus dies, and Jesus weeps because of it. Grief is a natural process of life. Life hurts. In our lives, there are times when we experience grief and loss. Maybe it is a literal loss of a loved one or family member. Maybe it’s not a physical death but it’s a death of dreams, a death of friendship…
However, please allow me to remind you today that just because there has been loss does not mean all is lost. The Embryologist teaches us that death precedes life. Jesus taught us death purchased eternal life. Sometimes in life the death of dreams, the death of self, the death of aspirations are simply the seeds of the life God has for you. I understand that this is not always the case. I’m not obvious to reality. Just let me remind you: There. Is. Hope.
Life has this quirky way of making you feel like nobody else understands what you’re going through in life. Sure, in some way, nobody understands you completely. Your hurts and pains are not my hurts and pains. I can’t see everything through your eyes because I don’t have your eyes. I can’t explain, or even to begin to understand the feeling of losing a parent, or child, or best friend. I don’t know that grief; we’ve never met.
While it’s true that each of us human beings can’t possibly understand the context from which each individual approaches grief and lost. We don’t always know the right words. We are humans; we don’t always get it. There are many that try their best to help others through the stages of grief, walk with them through the pain. Psychology and Counseling are methods for which we can do our best to help each other. Sometimes, however, we fall short.
With all of that said, please allow me to remind you that you are not alone. Your neighbor may not understand the reason for your grief. Your friend may not understand your depression. Your spouse may not be able help you through your anxiety. You’re faith might not always seem to overcome your worry. But, in all of those situations, there is still hope. You. Are. Not. Alone. There is One who understands completely. He gets you. He knows exactly how you feel. Loss, grief, emptiness… the sentiment is not misunderstood with Jesus.
“God knows absolutely everything, because he planned everything, made everything, and determines what happens in the world he made. So we describe him as omniscient. One interesting implication of God’s omniscience is that he not only knows all the facts about himself and the world; he also knows how everything appears from every possible perceptive… God’s knowledge, then, is not only omniscient, but omniperspectival. He knows from his own infinite perspective; but that infinite perspective includes a knowledge of all created perspectives, possible and actual” (Mathis, 2011). God knows your perspective.
The Psalmist said, “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.” He knows your thoughts, whether they are of joy or agony makes no difference. But he doesn’t just know what you’re thinking or feeling, he gets it. Jesus understands just how you feel in the midst of your pain, and he’s there to help you. Right now. Pain. Grief. Agony. Those words aren’t lost in relation to Jesus. He understands. Jesus wept.
Comer, J. (2011). My name is hope: Anxiety, depression, and life after melancholy. Portland, Or.: Graphe.
Piper, J., & Mathis, D. (Eds.). (2011). Thinking, loving, doing.: A call to glorify God with heart and mind. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.
Young J. (2012). Crushed: A physician analyzes the agony of Jesus. Glass Road Media.