It's the shortest verse in Scripture. It might be the most powerful.
Today I’m going to the funeral of a friend of mine. Her name is Alison. She was 31. 31! She was married with three kids under the age of 7. Her youngest just turned 1 on Easter. She died in the middle of the night. She was very healthy, and the doctors can’t explain what happened. As you can imagine, her husband and the rest of her family are devastated. As I think about what is in store for them – growing up without a mom, explaining to a 3 year old why mommy can’t read her a story, having Thanksgiving and Christmas without your daughter – I can’t help but ask why. We all ask why when faced with something tragic.
As a theologian, my head can explain why things like this happen. It’s not that God makes things like this happen; it’s that he allows things like this happen. And if you think about it, he has to. We live in a broken world. We live in a broken world, because God loves us and wants us to love him back. He gave us free will because without the ability to choose not to love him, we can never really choose to love him.
Think about it like this, if someone put a gun to your head, or some other way manipulated you into marrying them, and you had no way of choosing not to, are you freely choosing to love them? Of course not. We have to be able to choose not to love in order for it to actually be love. God gave us free will, and when Adam and Eve exercised that will to disobey God, they didn’t just damage their relationship with Him, they damaged the whole functioning of the world we live in. We live in a broken world because God loves us.
But when your wife, your mom, your daughter, your sister dies in the prime of her life it sure doesn’t feel like He loves you. It feels like He’s torturing you. And no amount of theological or philosophical reasoning can make you feel differently. At times like this there is one line in scripture that does help me though, at least a little. It’s the shortest verse in all of the Bible, John chapter 11, verse 35.
We all know the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Here’s the short version: Jesus hears that Lazarus has died, He goes to his house, He sees the family suffering, He goes to the tomb, and then comes that verse. “Jesus wept.” That's the whole verse. And then, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. There something we have to remember about this story, something that changes the whole thing: Jesus is God! Jesus didn’t show up, see his friend dead, become sad, and raise him because he was sad about it. Jesus knew all of this was going to happen. He had a plan already from time eternal. He’s God. So if Jesus was in control, and knew everything that was going to happen, why did he cry? He could have just walked in like a hero, raised Lazarus and turned to the crowd and said, “See, I am the Christ!”
Just because Jesus knew everything that was going to happen doesn’t change the fact that he loves us. And when he saw Lazarus’ sisters weeping, he was sad…because they were sad. He was sad, because even though he has to let bad things happen, it doesn’t mean his heart isn’t also broken when our heart is broken. Last night my daughter didn’t want to go to bed, she was laying there crying, begging me to come in and give her one more hug (I had already given her 5 “one more hugs”). I knew the right thing to do was not go in there, but it didn’t change the fact that when I heard her little voice crying for just one more hug my heart broke.
And when God hears the tears of Alison’s babies, it breaks his heart too. That’s the God we have, a God that, despite the fact that he has to let us live in this broken place, suffers with us when we’re miserable. And that does make me feel better…a little.