Three Things God’s Weeping Means for Us
– John 11:35
God Ordains that He Should Weep.
Consider the wonder of that statement. God – who is sovereign over all things and who does whatever He pleases in heaven and on earth (Ps.135:5-6) – freely ordains that He Himself should weep. And this is true not only of the enfleshment of God in Christ, but also of the pre-incarnate, Triune God (Is.16:9-10).
Sorrow is not an essential characteristic of God. Before creation, He did not have sorrow (though this does not mean He lacked anything without creation, since, what is sorrow except Love responding to adversity toward the beloved?). However, upon choosing to create this reality, He also chose to draw sorrow up into Himself, and – in fact – to know it more deeply than any other being.
So, what are the implications for living in a universe where God Himself experiences sorrow? There are many, but for the sake of time and simplicity, let me briefly look at three.
Sorrow is Good
I do not say this lightly or flippantly, and I do not mean to say that the situations that causes sorrow are “good.” However, if God is Good and there is nothing sinful or wicked in Him, and if God Himself experiences sorrow, then sorrow must, in some sense, be good. Before I look at what this means positively, let me mention quickly what it means negatively.
Negatively, we must conclude from the presence of sorrow in God that sorrow is not a sin, nor is mourning evidence of God’s displeasure, nor is sadness a response of weakness, nor does weeping mean we lack faith in the Lord’s sovereignty. If GOD mourns and if CHRIST weeps, then these assumptions about sorrow are proven utterly wrong. There is nothing sinful, displeasing, weak, faithless, or likewise in God. He is only good. Therefore, though our sorrow can drag us to harmful places, it – in and of itself – is not wrong.
Positively, we can say that sorrow is good in that it is the fitting response to the “bentness” of reality. God’s sorrow tells us that it is right to weep, to mourn, to feel heart-ache over elements of this world. Sorrow is a sermon that our body, mind and soul preaches to itself and to observers, a sermon whose main point is: “Creation is broken and I long for its renewal.” It’s telling the truth about our experience.
Sorrow is True
God does not lie, nor does He experience lies, therefore sorrow, mourning and weeping must be true responses to this world. Moreover, we are told that Jesus Christ – one who weeps – is The Truth (John 14:6). If we are to tell the truth to ourselves and to others, then we must be people who weep.
Indeed, there are depths of truth that cannot be plumbed if we shy away from, ignore, or numb the sorrows of this world. To walk through reality never embracing sorrow would be like trying to navigate a labyrinth by only taking right turns. Just as some of nature’s most beautiful treasures are found in deep caves of the earth, so too if we would know truth and Him who is True, we must at times descend into sorrow. Our heart-aches are part of reality and are a God-ordained means for us to know more of ourselves, of this world, and of Himself. George Macdonald, a 19th century pastor and author, struck close to the mark when he said:
“…we [do not] know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy.”
Sorrow is Beautiful
Consider how this is so in three ways.
First, sorrow is beautiful because it is in God.
God is perfect in beauty and excellence. There is nothing unfit, nothing “ugly” nothing perverse or out of proportion in Him. Therefore if God weeps and mourns, these must at least have the capacity to be beautiful things. Sorrow’s presence in God gives us the warrant to say that it is – in some sense – beautiful.
Second, sorrow is beautiful because it is a fitting response to this world.
17th century theologian Jonathan Edwards described Beauty (aka, “excellence”) as a “consent of parts.” In other words, when there is a “fitting-ness,” a “rightness,” an aesthetic correctness about two (or more) things, that is beautiful. Therefore, in as much as sorrow is the fitting response to hardships in this world, it fulfills Edwards’s requirements for something beautiful.
We know this to be true from experience. Imagine the departure of two dear friends, never to see one another again. And now imagine no sorrow in either heart, no response of sadness, not the slightest emotive ache…doesn’t something in us twist and recoil at the “wrongness” of that scenario? We don’t want tragedy, but when tragedy comes, we do want sorrow. Tragedy without sorrow’s corresponding echo would be repulsive. Inversely, tragedy that is met with, embraced by, and enveloped in a fitting sorrow is – in a sense – beautiful.
Lastly, sorrow is beautiful because it is the seed of joy.
Now, I need to preface this by saying that “sorrow is the seed of joy” is true only for the Christian. Someone who doesn’t love Christ will one day reflect on the deepest sorrows of this life as heights of joy to which they long to return….However, for the Christian, our sorrow is seed.
This deserves a whole blog post to itself – and perhaps one day it will get one – but for now suffice to say that the Christian’s sorrows in this life will not simply be overwhelmed by joy, they will grow into joy. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:4 and again in John 16:20, the mourning and sorrowing that we walk through in this life is not wasted, these bitter roots will bear sweet and beautiful fruits when God’s story is fully told……I do not say this lightly….I know many have walked through near-debilitating sorrows, however, on the authority of God’s Word, I can say that our deepest griefs in this life will yield some of our highest joys in eternity. The Lord does not gouge a well in our hearts unless He plans to replace the dirt with living water.
Is this true of God as well? Is His sorrow the seed of joy? Yes! Look at Isaiah 53:11,
“Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied.”
At the cross God Himself drinks sorrow to its dregs. The Father sacrifices His eternally beloved Son, the Son is cut off from the love He has eternally enjoyed with the Father, and the Holy Spirit – eternally the medium of God’s love – groans in the agony of Father and Son. God sorrows to the utmost at the cross…..And it is from the cross that all joy springs up.
The sorrowful seed of Christ’s crucifixion results in the joy of creation (Isaiah 44:22-23), the joy of the redeemed (John 16:22), and the joy of God Himself (Luke 15:7, However, it must be realized that God is eternally and perfectly joyful in Himself. Christ’s work on the cross gives Him joy in relation to creation, but does not add to that joy He has eternally known within the Trinity). God’s sorrow on the cross is the seed of all our joys, and His resurrection is a sovereign promise that every bud of grief in our life will bloom into a flower of gladness.
Following the One Who Wept
Friends, we have and will all walk through times of sorrow, and when those times come, let us remember that our sovereign God knows sorrow from experience. He is a God who omnipotently chooses to draw sorrow up into Himself, and in doing so declares that – ultimately – sorrow is neither evil nor final. So let us walk in dependence on and hope in our Lord and God, the one who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4), the one who wept tears of mourning so that our mourning might turn to gladness and our tears might become “the very wine of blessedness” (J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King).