“No one told me I would suffer. No one told me I would grieve.”
These are the opening lines to Joseph O’Brien’s song The Average he performed on America’s Got Talent in 2018. And when I heard the words, I crumpled under their weight. It’s so true, isn’t it? No one tells you that you will suffer in this life, partially because we just don’t like talking about it and partially because no one knows just how you will. I think we all hope that we won’t suffer much. But pain is a nosy neighbor who just keep knocking. And pain wears many masks. And unfortunately, the only way we learn about pain, is to live through some.
Jesus was not exempt from pain. We know his father Joseph died when he was a young man. For those of you who have lost your fathers, I believe you can imagine just how painful this may have been for Jesus. But the story of pain I connect with most when I read the scriptures, is the story of Jesus and Lazarus.
Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary of Bethany and Martha, were good friends of Jesus’. While Jesus and his disciples were away, Lazarus fell ill. The sisters sent word to Jesus to come quickly to heal his friend, but Jesus took his time. When he arrived, Lazarus had already passed away and had been laid in a tomb for four days. When Martha saw Jesus, she said to him, “If you were here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:22) Jesus then sees Mary weeping and is moved by her sadness.
Jesus begins to weep. He cries righteous tears over the loss of his dear friend. Thankfully, the story ends miraculously. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and commands him to walk out of the tomb, and he does.
Jesus felt the pain of loss. The magic in this story lies within the fact that Jesus cried tears of sadness despite the fact that he knew that God was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus felt great pain and showed great compassion knowing ahead of time the ending would be incredible.
“The Lord’s mercies are not exhausted, his compassion is never spent. They are renewed each morning. Great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 2:22-23
Because of Lazarus’ story, I believe the Lord shed tears over the death of my son as well. I know Jesus felt my pain despite the fact my son has been raised back to life and lives in heaven alongside the King. Jesus knew how it would end, but he never overlooks grief. He takes time to pause there because it matters to him and he knows it matters to us. He cries with us. He weeps alongside us. And I’m not talking just welled up, or a single tear, no. I believe when Jesus wept, it was full on sobbing, the same distraught mess I so often find myself in. Jesus understands that pain is the price of love.
Pain had not escaped our savior. He knows it well. He lives it with us. But take heart, for he has overcome it. (John 16:33)
I believe pain has two purposes. The first, and more important, is to glorify the Lord. All grief somehow glorifies him. The bible promises that the Lord has made everything for his own purposes, even the wicked, and also works for the good of those who love him. (Proverbs 16:4, Romans 8:28)
The second purpose of pain is to produce righteousness in us. Pain is never meaningless. Yes, it may be exhausting, lonely, and defeating,, but it is not meaningless. John Piper says, “Not only is all your affliction momentary. Not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature and fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of it.”
And the Bible confirms this truth in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us eternal glory that far outweighs them all."
I promise you that God will not miss an opportunity to make you more like Him. He uses both blessings and curses to produce righteousness in us. He both gives and takes away. We can’t see what God is doing. But the bible says not to look for what is seen. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Pain and suffering produce eternal righteousness in us when we put our trust in the Lord, when we find our peace in Him in the midst of tribulation, and when we can praise him though He slays us.
Let’s be honest.... Jesus didn’t have to let Lazarus die. He could have come more quickly to his sick friend’s aid, or he could have healed him from afar. But he didn’t. Why?
Because Martha is why. Jesus converses with her in John 11:25-27.
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Jesus used the death of Martha’s brother to confirm her faith. Jesus is always, and most concerned with our salvation. It always takes precedence, it always is his goal.
If you are wondering why you are suffering. Why you keep losing children. Why you can’t get pregnant. Why you lost someone you loved so much. It’s because it’s all for you. It’s all for your good. It’s all because Jesus loves you more than you can comprehend. Pain is bad, but it’s not bad for us.
My mom used to sing a couple worship songs to my sisters and I when we were young girls and couldn’t sleep at night. She would come to our rooms, rub our backs, and while tucking us in for the night, she would sing. One of these songs is called Come Lord Jesus. I began to sing it to myself and the words hit me in a new way.
“All who are thirsty, all who are weak, come to the fountain. Dip your heart in the streams of life. Let the pain and the sorrow, be washed away, in the waves of his mercy, as deep cries out to deep. We sing, come Lord Jesus come.”
The deep pain in us, cries out to and resonates with the Father in an intimate way. He cares. He loves us. And though he slays us, he is creating in us his own righteousness. And that, my friends, is worth weeping for.