I remember a running joke in my church circles when I was younger about one’s favorite Bible “memory verse” being John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” As a child, the joke elicited much laughter from my little belly. A two-word memory verse? Hilarious. I’m sure I overused the joke every time someone inquired about my favorite scripture, but I never forgot the reference. Today, I can say that John 11:35 is still one of my favorite verses, but for a different reason. In the statement “Jesus wept” we catch a glimpse of our Lord’s true humanity. A beloved friend has died unexpectedly and, moved with compassion, our Lord bawls over his tragic loss. Twice throughout the narrative, John describes Jesus as “deeply moved” (ESV), and we can only imagine what this looked like. His emotions were strong enough to bring a steady stream of tears. Jesus was moved.
So often I fall into the trap of picturing God as distant. He is the Spirit that hovers over the face of the earth. He is the Heavenly Father with a ZZ-Top beard who occasionally glances down on me to check in on my behavior. He is over and above me, transcendent, otherworldly, powerful, and stoic. I struggle to relate to this God. This God of my imagination isn’t much more than the Watchmaker of the 18th century deists who believed God kept his nose out of human affairs. This God is not easily moved.
Then I remember my favorite memory verse: Jesus wept. This God is no distant grandfather. Nor is he a solemn-faced curmudgeon with a flail, awaiting us to step out of line. No. This God is not just powerful and transcendent and unconcerned with humans. This God weeps. This God is moved. This God has flesh and blood and loves his family and friends. This God enters into the ebb and flow of human life and gets deeply involved with its joys and struggles. He visits with sinners. He grieves over unexpected deaths. He weeps for the lost and the dying. Jesus wasn’t just beamed down to die on the cross for sins. He lived as one of us. He dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Fully human, he encountered the human condition and all of the tragedy that comes along with it. Jesus wept.
Should our awe end there? In Jesus’ ability to relate to the depths of human emotion? The story is not over. John 11:38 says that Jesus was deeply moved again. He walks to the tomb of Lazarus and firmly tells his sister to remove the stone. Martha is reluctant; she’s worried about the stench of a rotting corpse. While the situation is a somber one, Jesus is focused on the one thing of utmost importance – the glory of God. His tears dried, he lifts up his eyes to the heavens and thanks his Father for hearing his cry, then with thunderous chutzpah calls forth Lazarus from his tomb. A mummy-like figure emerges, wrapped in linen. You can imagine the shock, the joy, the wonder. O Death, where is thy sting?
Not only is our God moved with compassion, he redeems tragedy. He overcomes even death. He calls forth that which is lost, broken, and lifeless. This God does not sit afar, unconcerned. No. This God is near. This God is moved. This God weeps. This God wipes his tears then brings forth light and life from the dark abyss of human tragedy. He refuses to be indifferent to our pain and sadness.
If you find yourself envisioning God as distant and indifferent, call to mind John 11:35. Jesus wept. Make it your favorite memory verse.