This afternoon, after work was ended and while I was in one of my official “reading rooms” before driving home, I started reading a book whose review is due in a couple of days. I had a feeling when I chose the book that it would be a difficult book for me emotionally due to its subject matter. I have not read the entire book yet (the review is forthcoming) but a rough sketch of the plot of the book as I have read it might make it clear why the book is a deeply personal one to me. So far the main characters have included a young woman with a dark and deeply mysterious past who has a rare gift at provoking brief but striking moments of lucidity for patients who are slipping into dementia and eventual death but who is officially only a lowly janitor at a retirement home, the retiring director of that retirement home who tends to be the sort of person who takes a chance on others in the hope of serving the best interests of those under her charge, her rule-bound and rather stiff successor, and a creative and artistic director who is absolutely hopeless at logistical matters like ensuring a sufficient cash flow to live and operate his business. Being able to relate to a few of those people, in starting to read the book I wept profusely and probably will while continuing to read the book.
Some people feel jealous of the gifts of others, while others tend to be despairing about the sorts of struggles and shortcomings that they have. However, every gift carries with it a curse and every shortcoming carries with it a (potential) blessing. Let us discuss the book I am reading for a little bit. It is not coincidental that the dark and mysterious past of the young woman in the book I am reading relates to an ability to draw out communication from others. Living a difficult life tends to give someone a great deal of empathy and sensitivity to others, but that same sensitivity that comes from a tender heart tends to make people hurt a lot more not only due to their own suffering but also due to the suffering of others. Often the suffering comes first, and for a long period of time, and it is a long time before we see the positive side of that suffering in the way that we can relate well to others and help give them encouragement through sharing or relating based on our own struggles.
In John 11:32-37, we read the following passage, which includes the shortest verse of the Bible in English (and, perhaps not coincidentally, the shortest PM Dawn album title : “Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him?” And some said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” In looking at this passage, we must ask ourselves, why did Jesus ask whats He asked, and perhaps more simply, why did He weep?
This is not a rhetorical question. Jesus surely knew that He had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, despite Lazarus having been dead for more than three days. He was not weeping for the death of Lazarus, unlike those who were with Him, because He knew the power that He had over death (thanks to the limitless Holy Spirit within Him). Surely such power and knowledge would keep most people from weeping, right? Likewise, Jesus surely knew where Lazarus’ tomb was and did not need others to show it to Him. Why then did he ask where the tomb was? This behavior might seem inexplicable to us, but it makes perfect sense given the portrayal of God throughout scripture. Let us note the first time in the Bible where the questioning nature of the one who became Jesus Christ can be seen, in Genesis 3:8-9: “And they [that is, Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Eternal God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Eternal God among the trees of the garden. Then the Eternal God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” Surely God knew where Adam and his wife were hiding, but God (presumably the preincarnate Christ, since no one (aside from Christ) has seen the Father at any time, per John 1:18 and John 6:46) asked where Adam was anyway because He wanted Adam to reveal his location and take the (implied) opportunity for confession and restoration. Likewise, Jesus Christ asked where the location of the tomb was to give His beloved friends Mary (and Martha) the chance to see the power of life over death, and opportunity that they took even without fully realizing what was being offered.
Why then did Jesus weep? In part, Jesus’ knowledge of the profound suffering of His friends over the death of their beloved brother and also the knowledge of how they would weep for His death that would come soon as well would have made Him troubled in His spirit, in the knowledge that doing what He was put on this earth to do would bring great sorrow and suffering for people whom He deeply loved. It was primarily not ignorance that made Jesus weep, as we often weep in ignorance, but rather Jesus wept out of knowledge and a profound empathy and identification with His friends. As Solomon once said: “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow,” in Ecclesiastes 1:18. The more we understand the motivations and feelings of others, the more sorrow we feel about the difficulty and pain that comes with life, as well as how people labor both in ignorance and fear, and how profoundly loss effects us deeply even if we may not appear to be very deep-feeling people on the outside. As great as the gifts of empathy and understanding are, they come with strings attached, namely our sorrow because of our emotional entanglement with others that comes from intimate knowledge of their situation. And so whether we come at life with knowledge or ignorance, or some combination of the two, we too will weep because of the benefits of our struggles and the weaknesses of our strengths. Such is the life, though.