Two stories jolted me this weekend. One from Aurora, Colorado and one from the dusty village of Bethany. The two, I believe, need to be heard together.
In the story of Lazarus, Jesus’ competing emotions give us pause. As Jesus arrived in Bethany and encountered two heartbroken sisters, both Jesus’ friends, John tells us that Jesus grew angry. Modern translations, perhaps uncomfortable with this seemingly ill-timed flash of temper, tone down the language. The NIV says Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” However, the text says Jesus was angry, and the Greek word used carries the imagery of a horse, with flaring nostrils, fighting against its bridle. The word fits well describing a bar room brawl, but how does it possibly fit the Son of Compassion who has arrived late to his friend’s bedside, the friend now entombed? How does anger fit a moment when Jesus greets a sister in convulsive tears?
But anger was only one emotion Jesus revealed. Mary asked Jesus to follow her to Lazarus’ burial spot. Jesus had arrived too late to intervene, but at least now he could pay his respects. After great tragedy, all we’re able to do is make peace with loss, gather the broken shards and make the best of whatever follows. A pastor from a church only minutes from the theater where the shooting occurred in Aurora this weekend gave a humbled, grieving response: “I don’t have any answers. I can only listen and hug.” Every pastor I know has echoed these words. I hate these words. They show my utter helplessness.
Sometimes, though, this is all that is left for us to do: bury the dead. To say goodbye. To pray against all odds that this won’t be that final dreaded straw, that our faith won’t finally fail, that hope will come again.
But anger, we’ve said, was only one emotion Jesus showed us. After Mary invited Jesus to Lazarus’ tomb, the Scripture simply says, “Jesus wept.” The floodgates opened, and the water poured. Jesus was not taken aback by the fact of his friend’s death. Earlier in the narrative, Jesus pointedly told his disciples that Lazarus had died. Rather, Jesus buckled under the weight of the sisters’ grief and the pain of a world so far from Eden. Jesus entered the sorrow of weeping Mary and burdened Martha and dead Lazarus. Jesus was angry at loss, so angry that he wept. And then so angry that he stared down death and told Lazarus to walk out of his tomb.
Anyone who says God takes pleasure in death and destruction (and I still shake my head when some say such idiotic things) needs to read their Bible better. God does not cause evil, but (to our frustration and bewilderment) neither does God always stop evil. God, in Jesus, does something far more scandalous, far more bewildering: God enters the very places overwhelmed with evil. A tomb, for instance. And a cross. In a theater where a madman unloads his firepower. In a hospital ward. In your heart, and mine. God grows angry. And God weeps.
And God promises to one day entirely overwhelm death. May it be so.