Jesus Wept: In Defense of Sorrow

BY BELLA GAMBOA

This piece is part of syndicated series in collaboration with Yale Logos for Lent 2021. You can read the original piece at https://www.yalelogos.com/home/jesus-wept-in-defense-of-sorrow.

Sorrow is a particularly relevant emotion during Lent, all the more so in a Lenten season that marks a year of profound hardship. In my own life, I find that sorrow is quite an accessible emotion. I only occasionally experience the overflowing exuberance that I feel I ought to have as a Christian, as one who has eternal hope and salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—the events which Christians eagerly and repentantly await throughout these forty days. 

I am at times frustrated by my own proclivity to sadness, but I would like to defend it. Sorrow is far from being an un-Christian emotion. In fact, I believe that redeeming sorrow will enable us to better understand how sadness and joy are intertwined, in our own lives and in Christ’s. Indeed, the shortest verse in the Bible is, famously, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). 

Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died, and, seeing the grief of Lazarus’ sisters and other mourners, Jesus “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). Jesus wept. Christ—the God of the universe made man, who would in a few moments raise His friend from the dead—cried. He could have pushed that pain aside and raised Lazarus a few moments sooner; He knew that He could and shortly would raise Lazarus. But, instead, He mourned and did not move past or minimize this moment of grief. 

Jesus’ grief at Lazarus’ death was not an isolated event, a single moment of negative emotion in the blissful life of the only perfect human being. A prophecy that describes Christ in the book of Isaiah characterizes Him—the One who is fully divine and fully human—as quite the opposite of cheery:

 He was despised and rejected by mankind,

    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.

Like one from whom people hide their faces

    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain

    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

    stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5 ESV)

God Incarnate, the Savior of the world, was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 KJV). I find the KJV translation a particularly poignant reminder that our God is not one who was distant from sorrow, but was rather one “of sorrows.”

An attitude toward sorrowful feelings especially common in the contemporary American church attempts to minimize such emotions, or even casts them as antithetical to a spirit of Christian hope and assurance. Citing assurances that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28), grief and pain in a Christian context are often overlooked and sometimes erased. That sort of rhetoric follows the logic that, if God is working something terrible or difficult to good, there are no real causes of sorrow for the Christian. 

But I maintain that this sort of thinking is a profound and dangerous fallacy. Whether discrete moments of tragedy or inexplicable feelings of sadness, minimizing the sorrowful minimizes rather than magnifies God’s goodness and power, and diminishes our ability to appreciate the fullness of a Lord who became “acquainted with grief” for our sake.

Throughout the season of Lent, we look to the cross, the site of the greatest tragedy, and the most profound source of grief, in the history of the world. There, the only perfect person, the only One who really did not deserve to die for His sins, was nailed to the cross and died for our sins. To shortchange sorrow is to diminish the grief of Good Friday and thus the joy and power of Easter. Sarah Sparks’ song “Lucy’s Tale” articulates that pain and grief in the shadow of the cross, prior to the joy of the empty grave: “I’ve been living in the shadow / Weeping over blood / But yet to see the empty grave. / Cause I’m still hoping in the not yet / Clouds are covering the sun / But I’ll believe while in the shade.” When we are so aware of the bright morning and eternal joy of Easter, it can be easy to lose sight of the enveloping darkness of Good Friday. But that grief is essential to the subsequent jubilation. And those hours between the crucifixion and the resurrection are a reminder of “the not yet” which we occupy our whole lives, as we wait in a still-broken world for Christ to return. 

Though we should be careful not to undermine pain and hardship, I do want to end on a note of hope––after all, Lent is not only a season of solemnity, but also one in which we await the ultimate, wondrous hope of Easter. In another of Sparks’ songs, “Puddleglum’s Anthem,” the speaker addresses God and proclaims that “you complete your plans / With our broken hands… / I have seen your work / Raising life up from the dirt; / This I know. / See that thread of sin / Seamlessly woven in; / This I know.” Our hands are broken; we may be tangled in threads of sin, pain, and the not-yet-ness of the world; we might walk in sorrow, hardly able to glimpse God’s promises and hope. But, thanks to the shadow of the cross that was followed by the morning of the empty tomb, we can allow ourselves to cling to the hope proffered by a God who Himself experienced grief, who “took up our pain,” and who always walks alongside us in our sorrow.

Bella is a junior at Yale majoring in Humanities while on the pre-med track.

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