A Weeping Savior
Greek and Roman mythology believed in gods who were heartless, who had no care for humans. William Barclay points out that, in Greek thinking, one of the greatest attributes of the gods was the Greek word apatheia, from which we get the English word apathy—the lack of care. Indeed, heartfelt concern by the gods for people was punished harshly. When Prometheus took pity on people and gave to them the gift of fire, Zeus—the chief of the gods—punished Prometheus harshly, binding him to a rock in the Caucuses where an eagle would descend upon him daily to eat Prometheus’ liver, only to have it grow back again each night so the punishment could be repeated each new day. There was no place in the courts of Zeus for such a thing as pity toward humans.
But when God revealed Himself to the world in Jesus, what the world saw was a very different kind of God than what the Greeks and Romans expected. When Jesus came to the tomb of his friend Lazarus who had died four days earlier, and when he saw the people weeping, John 11:33 records that Jesus “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”
The Greek word used here to describe Jesus as being greatly disturbed in spirit is enebrimasato (from the verb embrimaomai). The word was used in classical Greek to describe the snorting of an angry horse. When John got around to recording this miracle, he recalled that Jesus was so moved by Mary’s grief and the tears of the others that he snorted like an angry horse.
In the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures) this word is used in Daniel 11:30 to express violent displeasure. John recalls that Jesus was so deeply moved in spirit that he showed violent displeasure over the grief that surrounded him.
Jesus does not reveal a God who is apathetic toward our sorrows but one is passionately moved by our grief.
John 11:35 goes on to report, “Jesus began to weep.” Even though he knew that he would raise Lazarus back to life, Jesus felt their sorrow so fully that he joined the mourners in their grieving.
Ken Gire asks the question, “Which is most amazing? To have a God who raises the dead? Or to have a God who weeps?”
It is no surprise to me that Jesus could raise the dead. If Jesus is God, and if God is all powerful, then I can expect God to do miraculous things.
But who would expect to meet a God who feels our pain so deeply with us that he cries?
In his book Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff writes, “Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God. It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one can see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.”
That quote stirs my soul. Perhaps the most incredible aspect of God’s character is his willingness to take unto himself all of our sorrow! How can any mortal look upon the fullness of sorrow that God takes upon Himself and survive? Jesus can do it because he is all-powerful; he does do it because he is full of love for us!