The God Who Weeps
The God who weeps
In John 11 we read a remarkable story. The story has little to say about the disciples, nor Mary and Martha, nor indeed the group of mourners, nor Lazarus, although he is clearly important in the story. He doesn’t speak at all and the Scriptures say very little about him. In fact, in this story all we know is that he gets very sick, he dies, he is buried and he comes to life again.
This leaves us with an obvious conclusion: the story is all about Jesus and the significance of the other characters are significant in their relation to Him. The obvious headline of the story is Jesus’s self-declaration that He is the Resurrection and the life, and His raising of Lazarus from the dead, is one of the most remarkable and definitive proofs of His divinity in all the Gospels. But a closer reading of the whole story and the conversations and events within it, draw out a web of interconnected themes that speak powerfully to us about the God Who is revealed in Jesus Christ, not only in the power of resurrection life, but in the pain of the suffering of life.
As I was musing over this story, reading and interpreting it in the light of my own devastation when life fell apart a few years ago, it served to ground this story in the trauma of my own life experience which continues to be worked out day by day. These reflections are not to draw attention to my own story but to the God that is revealed in today’s Gospel story and central to my own. As I have reflected on the entire chapter, John 11, there are three truths that have struck a chord with me that have dovetailed with my own story.
1) The God who seems to delay shows up at just the right time
In v 4 Jesus hears the news that Lazarus is very sick and his sisters Mary and Martha send word to Jesus (v 1-3) to explain to him the immediate crisis. Lazarus is very ill and Jesus must come at once to help. But Jesus decides to wait a further two days before he goes to help (v 6) in what is an unbearable delay for his sisters and proves fatal. Lazarus dies in the intervening days and it takes another two days for Jesus to arrive at Lazarus’s home. By the time Jesus shows up Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days (v 17).
The God that created time seems somehow to have got the timing all wrong. He is 4 days late and shows up after the event. But unknown to those living though the trauma that has unexpectedly invaded their lives, Jesus is well area of the crisis, for nothing takes God by surprise and his arrival and intervention has come at the right moment. For unknown to mere mortal human beings, His timing is perfect and the fatal delay was in fact providing the opportunity for God to break in at the moment of his choosing. The story reveals from the outset that Jesus is in command of the whole situation and through these traumatic events will bring glory to God at the right time, in the right way and for the right reasons (v 4). God seemed to show up late and was playing catch up with events on the ground, but He was ahead of them and arrived at the right time.
When my life fell apart events overtook me in ways that I could not have imagined. Events moved at such a pace that I could not keep up with them and in my own period of only 2-4 days’ life crashed and turned completely upside down. God not only seemed to be very late but seemed to stay away as I entered the trauma of my own illness and collapse of life. And yet as I look back now at the those early traumatic days that invaded my life, I can see how God showed up at the crucial moments at the right time, in the right way and for the right reasons in ways that were unbelievably miraculous. I can see the times when the right person landed at my door at exactly the right moment. I can see the times when God brought along the right help at the right time and in the right moment in perfect ways. I can see how God showed up in the Scriptures giving miraculous promises and assurance in a way that felt the text was written just for me. I can see how God showed up in the right phone call or text or message or answered prayer, or embrace, or brought a change or circumstance at the pivotal moment. I can see how God provided faithful companions to walk alongside me every day for months and a small group of people I had never met before to bring serenity and support week by week. I can see that God was never taken by surprise even although I was, and at the critical points of my journey showed up at the right time in unexpected people and unexpected ways. Whatever you are going through always know that God is not late, even when he appears to be so, and will show up at just the right time in unexpected ways.
2) The God who seems to disappoint is trustworthy and promises hope
The story reveals to us Mary and Marth’s deep disappointment in Jesus Who they knew had the power to prevent Lazarus from dying in the first place, and believed He should not have allowed this crisis to emerge. The disappointment is expressed first by Martha to Jesus when she comes to him and says, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v21). And likewise, as Mary approaches Jesus as he comes to her home, she says the exact same words as her sister, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v32). No doubt this was the conclusion they had come to as they discussed it in the family home together. And yet the God that seems to disappoint by not preventing the devastation of Lazarus’ illness and death proves Himself trustworthy by offering promises of hope, both for now and for the future that become a reality before their very eyes. Lazarus is dead but will rise again, both now and in the life to come (v 23-v 27) and He did, and He will! The One who is the Resurrection and the life can be trusted and his promises are true.
In my disappointments of the last few years, in people, in processes, in events, in myself and in circumstances beyond my own control, and sometimes even in God Himself, I can see in hindsight that God not only showed up on time, but gave to me reassurance from others and spoke to me previous promises that I have ever only shared with a few people and will remain with me all my life. On three separate occasions God gave me three prophetic promises from Scripture that seemed impossible promises to believe in the eye of the storm, but all have come to fruition. One of those words from Ezekiel 34 was that I would be restored to all the places that had been lost, came at the time when it looked certain I had lost everything important to me and there seemed no way back, but my standing here today is proof of a precious promise fulfilled in a God that can be trusted and a God that offers hope even in the darkness of places. Whatever you are going through, even as you feel disappointed in the God that should have made things different and prevented the course of events that have brought grief, know that God can be trusted with your life and promises to be our “refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46 v 1).
3) The God who seems distant is lovingly present and weeps with us
The story reveals that the God who seems to delay, to disappoint and appears detached from the crisis that is unfolding in the lives of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and their family, friends and community, is in fact lovingly present throughout. Indeed, the narrator of the story is at pains to express to the reader (you and I), that Jesus is deeply moved by all that is happening in the lives of those He deeply loves.
John records the very words Mary and Martha send to Jesus to help us know that Jesus loves Lazarus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (v3). In v 5 he records “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” He notes when Jesus saw Mary and Martha and the crowds that had gathered to mourn the death of Lazarus, that “Jesus was moved in spirit and troubled” (v33) and as Jesus came face to face with the tomb, observes that “Jesus wept” (v35) and records the words of the mourners, “See how he loved him” (v36).
The God who seems distant is lovingly present throughout and enters our sufferings to embrace us by embracing them, and weeps alongside us as we shed our own tears of devastation. Hebrews 4 v 15 reminds us that “we have a high priest that is touched with the feeling of our infirmities” and “Who in the days of his flesh…offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” (Heb 5 v 7). If the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead is amazing, so is the miracle of a God that laments with us when life falls apart.
For God weeps with us in our pain and devastation
For God weeps with us in our tragic loss and bereavement
For God weeps with us in our suffering and brokenness
For God weeps with us in our devastating illnesses
For God weeps with us when our hopes and dreams are shattered
For God weeps with us when the darkness of sin distorts His image in us and others
For God weeps with us when the trauma of life unexpectedly breaks in to devastate
For God weeps with us when we suffer the deep disappointments of life
For God weeps with us at the injustices, cruelties and barbarities of life
For God weeps with us when we weep with our own shame and guilt
And the God Who weeps with us, accompanies us in our journey, alongside us, bringing hope, healing and new redemptive possibilities by raising up our hands that are hanging down and strengthening our feeble knees (Heb 12 v 12). For God in Christ is present, weeping alongside His people binding up the wounds of the broken-hearted. When God weeps, watch out! New life is on the horizon. Weeping may last for a night but joy breaks though in the morning (Psalm 30 v 5).
On my worst days, I would walk to the local park, in the morning, or afternoon or late in the day, and cry out with loud tears to the God that shared in my pain. On one of those occasions I had an old hymn well up within me and I sang it out loud as a lament and prayer. For weeks when I entered that park in devastation I would sing out the same song and hold on to God for my life, family and future. The truth of the song lifted my heart and reminded me that the tender God sat next on the bench with me, had not abandoned me, and wept alongside me.
I leave this song with you today and want you to know that the God Who weeps will always be with you and His power will raise you up in this life and the life to come:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear,
now to his temple draw near;
praise him in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
how thy desires ever have been
granted in what he ordaineth?
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
surely his goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
what the Almighty can do,
if with his love he befriend thee.
Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
biddeth them cease,
turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.
Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
sheddeth his light,
chaseth the horrors of night,
saints with his mercy surrounding.
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before him.
Let the amen
sound from his people again,
gladly for all we adore him.