Even Jesus Wept
By caleb wilde
December 30, 2011
Editor's Note: This week, we're revisiting the most popular webcontent on RELEVANTmagazine.com in 2011—and this one caught us by surprise. People don't want to read about being sad, right? Yet, a great number of readers passed along this article about the theology of sorrow. Many Christians see God as an emotionless deity, and tend to view their feelings, especially negative ones, as being unlike Him. But Caleb (a funeral director who knows a thing or two about the heights of emotion) reveals a God who has known the ache of loss, who empathizes with His children and can even turn suffering into something sacred. Could it be that our sorrow is a form of worship? Where should believers draw the line with emotions? If you haven't before, join this much-needed discussion.
Few Christians are familiar with the term “orthopathos.”
We’re familiar with orthodoxy, which is “thinking like Jesus." And some of us have heard of the term orthopraxy, which is “acting like Jesus.”But orthopathos, which means “feeling the feelings of Jesus,” is an idea few of us are familiar with because so few of us may even believe He feels as we do.
It’s said that we become like the object or person we worship. And when you worship God, you become like who or what you think He is.
Do you worship God as patient? Do you worship God as just? Do you worship God as love? You will eventually become all these things if you believe they are a part of God’s character.
But what happens when you see God as immutable—as unchangeable? What happens when you see God as impassible—as emotionless?
So many Christian traditions believe God is utterly unable to change and unaffected by emotion, unprovoked by the behavior of the world He so loves. Should it be a surprise that so many of us become unmoved and emotionally repressed? That we temper our joys and bury our sorrows?
When we say “orthopathos,” most Christians think the proper way to feel like God is to not acknowledge feeling at all—to never grieve, to never have joy, to never get angry, to never grow sorrowful—because the One they worship, the One they are trying to reflect, has no emotion Himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Giving into and being consumed by strong emotion is unhealthy, yes, even sinful; but having emotion in its proper context is good, even holy.
The ultimate example of orthopathos is found on the cross. The prophet Isaiah, in what is perhaps one of the more powerful prophetic utterances of the Old Testament, writes: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. … 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 …"
Laying on of the iniquity, bearing of our suffering, taking of and familiarity with pain—this man of suffering took so much of the world’s grief into His heart that it’s recorded in Mark 13:34: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death."
Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death! That's not just being unhappy with your job, losing a friend or facing family problems. That is the height of sadness—a sorrow rooted in love.
This wasn’t Jesus being punished by the Father per se, but Jesus taking the heart of the Father in human form—seeing what God sees, acting as God would act and ultimately feeling like God feels. It was the ultimate act of representing the Father in human form, and it was an anguished display. And then, I believe, Jesus died, not only from the wounds of the cross, but from the wounds of the heart.
Sure, we can begin to understand right thinking, we can begin to understand right action, but who can feel the heart of God and live?
Life is full of trials and tribulations—loss, sin, betrayal, disappointment, illness, death. Why then do Christians resist sorrow? Why do they feel ashamed when it finds them? There’s a couple reasons: 1) Our theology doesn’t allow for it, so 2), we think it’s unlike our God if we do so.
Wendell Berry’s famed literature character “Jayber Crow” states this:
I prayed to know in my heart His love for the world, and this was my most prideful, foolish, and dangerous prayer. It was my step into the abyss. As soon as I prayed it, I knew that I would die. I knew the old wrong and the death that lay in the world. Just as a good man would not coerce the love of his wife, God does not coerce the love of His human creatures, not for Himself or for the world or for one another. To allow that love to exist fully and freely, He must allow it not to exist at all. His love is suffering. It is our freedom and His sorrow … And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.
Some of us will feel God’s missional love for the world, but all of us will feel the sorrow of death and loss. And it’s high time that we as Christians believe it’s OK to sorrow. It’s high time we believe it’s OK to weep, for when we do so we aren’t becoming unlike our God; in fact, we are worshiping Him.