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The Glory of Sadness

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.  “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  John 11:33-36

Lazarus has died.  This whole chapter follows the dying of Lazarus, the news delivered to Jesus, Jesus’ response and explanation of the events and His interaction with it.  Jesus understands it is happening to glorify God, not in some abstract way, but to provide a tangible demonstration of resurrection and His power over death.  Jesus knows that His delay in getting to Lazarus is a necessary part of this story and how the story is being worked out in those He loves dearly.  He knows that like Joseph sold into slavery, Moses being asked to return to Egypt, Daniel being sent into the lion’s den, Jonah to Ninevah by way of a whale and His own walk up to the cross, God’s story always takes His people through the valley of the shadow of death in order that they may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  And even with the confidence and certainty of all of this, Jesus wept.

We, generally speaking for humanity, don’t weep much.  We hide our tears.  We smile and are eager to minimize any feeling of genuine sorrow, dismay, heartache, disorientation, disappointment and especially despair.  We see these as a sign of weakness, a sign of short-sightedness, an indication that we are unstable and have lost our composure and control.  Sadness is categorically bad, or so we have come to believe.

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  Joel 2:12Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Matt. 26:38-39

God commands weeping, Jesus wept and we are invited into these tears as a part of glorifying God, but how?  The way I typically think is to frame a situation rationally so as to make it less sad, more bearable, less awkward and less disorienting, more palatable.  And that is where the Gospel is missing from my honest interaction with the world that I claim needs a redeemer.  Sin and brokenness, death and disease, cruelty and division should not be palatable or bearable.  The fact that the girl down the street has had four miscarriages but has three beautiful children doesn’t diminish the intense grief of the friend who has just lost her baby in a miscarriage.  The fact that discrimination isn’t unexpected doesn’t justify it nor make its exclusionary actions less hurtful.  The fact that the sunshine will follow the rain and maybe even make a rainbow doesn’t make the rainy day less dark and wet and gloomy.  Jesus wasn’t afraid to acknowledge and feel deeply the sorrow unto death that is evidence of a world that needs redemption.  The story of redemption actually rests on the fact that the world needs it!  As Tullian Tchividjian wrote in his post “Minimizing Suffering Minimizes the Cross”, our need to be “ok” underscores our denial that anything is beyond our own repair.

So in that sense, we’ve got it right that sadness is weakness.  It is the weakness with which we are to approach the Lord’s Supper each week.  It is the weakness with which we are to position ourselves before our Father, dressed only in His Son’s good deeds and effective work.  It is the weakness out of which we can most genuinely love our neighbors.  It is in the weakness of such sadness that we begin to see Jesus more clearly and know Him more accurately.

My refusal to really feel the sadness of injustice, sickness, brokenness and sin is my refusal to really feel my need for redemption beyond what I can manage myself.  My need to skip over the valley of the shadow of death and focus only on the banqueting table, to say rather coldly in the name of pragmatism to Mary and Martha, “Don’t be silly, quit your crying, he’s going to be resurrected in a few minutes”, is my need to stay numb to the realities that sin is really bad and big and way beyond my reach to clean up, redress, edit or repackage.  In Africa and in many communities even in the U.S., people refuse to be tested for HIV because the consequences of a positive result seem too devastating.  People would rather die of unknown causes than face their fears of stigma or long hospital stays or medical dependencies.  So, not only has the disease spread as it has been denied and ignored, hundreds of thousands have died from something that modern medicine can now make undetectable and practically inconsequential.  The infected person who is unwilling to face the gravity of their disease ends up dying after intense suffering when medically, like malaria, there is now an easy prevention and counter attack for that.  Because there is a remedy, there can be less fear in the diagnosis.

As a Christian it is no different.  Because I do have a redeemer, because not only the resurrection but also total restoration is now a promise, like Jesus I can weep for the gravity of the need for it.  I can face the problem with my eyes wide open rather than deny or minimize it.  It is the very hope of the Gospel that gives me permission to feel deeply the weighty sadness of my need for it.

From: Go to Dark Gethsemane  by James Montgomery, 1771-1854               Go to dark Gethsemane,               ye that feel the tempter’s power;               your Redeemer’s conflict see,               watch with him one bitter hour.               Turn not from his griefs away;               learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

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