Tragedy creates its own kind of pain. It carves deep into the soul – sometimes with the skill of a surgeon’s scalpel, but far too often it seems to slash with the serrated edge of a madman’s inexplicable violence. As anguish alternates between agony and anger, we search for a vocabulary to describe what no thesaurus can provide.
As we absorb the images of shock and dismay etched on the faces of high school students, their parents and teachers, the well-intentioned among us will often rush in to soften hard pain with kind words, sprinkling in passages of Scripture and encouragements to pray and lean on Jesus. Others of us will attempt to justify God, defend Him against accusations of being impotent, unloving, or of not existing at all. In the end the would-be comforters among us can be more like Job’s comforters than we intend. We forget, do we not, that one of the most powerful things ever written about Jesus Christ is this: Jesus wept.
Students of the Bible know this text is from the gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35. Bible trivia types are quick to point it out as the shortest verse in the English Bible. This makes trivial what is a very profound truth. Jesus wept.
When Jesus came to the home of his deceased friend, Lazarus, he was met by Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha accosted Jesus reproving him by saying that if he had been at Lazarus’ bedside, her brother, his dear friend would still be alive.
Jesus’ response to Martha is noteworthy for being one of His more famous (and quotable) “I Am” sayings in John’s gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus tells Martha. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” We might think Jesus’ response more stoic than comforting, more aloof than loving, but then Mary comes out to greet him. She repeats Martha’s reproof. Yet unlike her sister, Mary falls weeping at Jesus’ feet. John tells us that at the sight of Mary weeping Jesus “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” He was indignant and agitated in the face of such intense grief. But Mary is not the cause of his indignation. Jesus is made indignant by the way death breaks the human heart. He is agitated by the pain grief inflicts upon the grieving. This is Jesus saying without words that death is unnatural. Death was never meant to join the circle of life. Death was never God’s intention for his creation. We invented death. And this is what it does.
Jesus then asked to see the place where they had interred his friend. Upon seeing the tomb containing the body of Lazarus, John says simply, “Jesus wept.” He cried real tears the result of genuine grief and sincere sorrow. Indignation and agitation give way to tears of mourning.
And so, if we would comfort those tormented by inexplicable tragedy, if we would tender solace to souls in sorrow, if we would console with those who weep bitter tears, let us learn to weep as well. Let us not be afraid to be deeply moved in our spirit and greatly troubled. There is death and evil in this world. It is as real as it is pernicious. It is as painful as it is incoherent in its action.
And yet, there is also faith, hope, and love. Just as real. Just as pervasive. Just as inexplicable in its capacity to mend, restore, and renew what death and evil try so wickedly to destroy. There is and will be a time to act. Now is not that time. Now is the time to weep, to mourn, to grieve. Yet let us weep and mourn and grieve as those with hope that as Jesus wept, then went on to raise Lazarus from the dead so, too, he will raise new life out of the tragic death of so many.