The Comfort of Jesus’ Tears

It is a verse that many know well—even if it is more for its syntactic terseness than its theological robustness. Two words make an easy memory verse but they also make a balm for the pained soul. Upon drawing near to the tomb of Lazarus, John 11.35 says, “Jesus wept.” It has long puzzled many, including myself, that Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, wept. It can seem nearly heretical to say God weeps. At first pass, this appears to infringe upon the doctrine of God’s impassibility in an uncomfortable way. But there is much more in these two words than fodder for theological debate. There is an ocean of comfort.

The orthodox doctrine of God’s impassibility declares that God being infinite and eternal, self-sufficient and self-sustaining, cannot be moved or changed by a force external to him. In other words, God cannot unwillingly be subject to change, emotional or otherwise. To some, this seems a rather cold, static view of God. There are in fact a host of theories regarding the emotional life of God that have attempted to understand how the eternally unmovable, impassable God could be moved to tears that ultimately digressed into heresy. In short, these heresies put forth an understanding of Jesus that he is not fully God because if Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb and suffered and died on the cross, he cannot be God who is impassible.

We must learn to see that through tears of Jesus the light of the gospel refracts to display an array of comfort and hope.

We must, therefore, avoid two errors. The first error we must avoid is viewing Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, as unable to suffer which would deny the reality of his tears and his death and thus make him unsympathetic to our own tears and suffering. The second error we must avoid is making Jesus less than God in order to validate his tears and suffering and thus make him insufficient to save us from our own tears and suffering. We must learn to see that through tears of Jesus the light of the gospel refracts to display an array of comfort and hope.

His tomb-side tears testify that Jesus, while being God and thus unable to be unwillingly moved by things external to himself, willingly entered into the deep depths of our depraved condition in order to meet us there and to raise us up from it. This point is often lost on us as we read John 11 as it was on the eye witnesses of Jesus’ tears who asked in verse 37, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Yet here is the great irony of their question—it is precisely because Jesus can and will keep Lazarus from dying that he weeps. Jesus came to eradicate death, the miserable end of the helpless human condition and to restore people to a new, full humanity. Therefore, he must willingly enter into those deplorable depths if he is to raise us up from there to a new humanity.

Yet here is the great irony of their question—it is precisely because Jesus can keep Lazarus from dying that he weeps.

If Jesus were unwilling to subject himself to the despair of our humanity, even though he may still be sufficient to save us as God, he would not be sympathetic. If Jesus were not fully God, even though he may be sympathetic in his humanity to our plight, he would not be sufficient to save us from it. Instead, the biblical testimony is that the Son of God who is fully and eternally God and who is unmoved and unchanged by external forces, willingly enters into the fullness of our humanity—including our tears and suffering—so that he raises up with him every part of our brokenness. If Jesus appeared to us as a savior who stood outside or above or external to our circumstance, we could not trust that the redemption he offers is holistic—that it extends to the deepest depths of our brokenness. If Jesus appeared to us as a savior who is merely sympathetic to and pities our condition, we could not trust that the redemption he offers is sufficient at all.

The biblical testimony is that the Son of God who is fully and eternally God and who is unmoved and unchanged by external forces, willingly enters into the fullness of our humanity—including our tears and suffering—so that he raises up with him every part of our brokenness.

The comfort of Jesus’ tears is that he is both and uniquely a sufficient and sympathetic high priest. He, as fully God, is sufficient in his saving power. He, as man, is sympathetic in his compassionate care. Though his tears seem strange to us at first, they begin to gather into a vast ocean of comfort from which we can draw in abundance in our time of need.

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