The darker the night, the brighter the star. The deeper the grief, the closer is God!Apollon Maykov
Jesus wept. John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible and perhaps the most human. I love this verse because, as I’ve argued elsewhere, if you want to know what it means to be a human, look no further than Jesus. Here, we have permission to weep and lament over the brokenness around us. For Jesus, this was the death of Lazarus and the pain and anguish it caused those closest to him. Jesus didn’t stoically trust in God’s plan (despite knowing He would resurrect Lazarus shortly after). Still, neither did He lose all hope under the crushing weight of grief. Jesus responded as the perfect human should; He lamented with genuine tears without losing sight of the future hope. Like the Psalmist, Jesus cries out in distress as He trusts in God’s deliverance (Psalm 55:16-18).
John 11:35 doesn’t just permit humans to grieve; it also shows us who God is. He is the kind of God who steps into our darkest moments. Yahweh weeps when we weep and feels just as burdened with the brokenness as we are (even more so). Despite some people’s tendency to pit the New Testament God against the Old Testament God, we shouldn’t be surprised to find the grieving God revealed in Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Perhaps the first time God explicitly grieves is during the flood account, where “the LORD regretted that he had made humanity on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:6). Interestingly when I read this story earlier in my Christian journey, I always thought God was mad with everyone for being evil (which they were). So, he sends a flood to destroy the earth in a fit of rage. However, the passage suggests that the flood is in response to human sinfulness and God’s grief. Anger and grief aren’t mutually exclusive emotions. We can be highly irrational when we’re emotional, even when being emotional is the most rational response.
Nevertheless, it is essential to note here that the passage highlights God’s grief as the emotional response, not anger. One can only speculate why. Some of my most grief-filled times have been because people I deeply loved not just broke my heart but went down a path I knew wasn’t good for them, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Here I can imagine God breaking down over the choices of the world as they were dominated by sin and, in turn, perpetuated sin into the world. Now, there are a lot of ideas and interpretations of the flood account (Genesis 6-9). However, there is one place I can land on here, and that’s this story is a commentary on all of our lives. All of us have participated in the brokenness and evil that has dominated this world since Genesis 3. God grieves for each, and every one of us as the renewal of the world edges closer and closer.
God’s grief in the flood account may come as a shock to some. The destruction of the world and everyone in it doesn’t seem like an appropriate response to grief. This is difficult to reconcile with God’s character elsewhere in the Bible. I have no easy answers. I know that the Bible portrays God as one who is intimately involved with His creation (Genesis 1-3), that He is merciful, kind, and slow to anger (Exodus 34:6-7), and that He loves the world so much that He sent Jesus to rescue it (John 3:16). Yet, God deals justly with the problem of sin, and I believe that Genesis 6-9 is a window into what will happen when Jesus returns and ushers in the New Heavens and Earth. As I’ve argued here, the flood isn’t just about removing sin and the destruction of the world; it is about renewal and God rescuing humanity.
Another notable passage where grief is mentioned in the Bible is in Isaiah 53:3, where “the arm of the LORD” is said to be “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” In the New Testament, this mystery person is revealed to be Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 8:14-17; John 12:37-41; Luke 22:35-38; 1 Peter 2:19-25; Acts 8:26-35; Romans 10:11-21). Even a cursory reading of the Gospels will demonstrate how Jesus was acquainted with grief. Perhaps we see this clearly in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus says, “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” The author of Hebrews fleshes this out when he says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Finally, we see in Revelation that the suffering servant is the one who wipes every tear from our eyes in the new creation (Revelation 21:4).
There is much to grieve about in one’s life—the death of a loved one, the state of the world, divorce. I have heard that life is just a series of traumatic events we learn to manage and grieve. You could have everything and still be “a man of sorrows.” As I survey the Bible, I see how God justly deals with sin but is genuinely grieved over the state of the world. In particular, I see Jesus in the Gospels, where God is most human, and humanity is most in touch with God – I am comforted to know that the grief I experience, the depression, and the sorrow, is not overlooked. It is shared in by a God who could easily transcend the sufferings of this life. Those who mourn are blessed, for God is near them (Psalm 34; Matthew 5:4).
Other related blogs:
When Doing Normal Christianity Just Doesn’t Work
BoJack Horseman: Nihilism and How the Gospel Heals Our Deepest Despair Part I