Has anyone else been disturbed by the pervading darkness around us in the last few weeks? Tornadoes, bombings, explosions, fires, collapsed buildings, murder trials, brutal captivities, and multiple scenarios involving the harming of children have dominated every form of media with which we are saturated. I don’t know about you, but it gets to the point that I feel tired of asking: why?. This is, of course, compounded by the fact we continually face our own suffering and loss or watch them happen to those who are close to us.
Times like these will inevitably lead each person, no matter what or whom one believes in, to conclude that there is something fundamentally broken in our world. Some may not feel comfortable with words like “sin,” “judgment,” or “Satan;” but almost everyone can agree that a good deal of what we have been experiencing is just “wrong.” Even if we are tired of asking, we always seem to return to the primal, often called existential question: why?. Eventually, the inescapable reality sets in: there is no good answer to this question.
Make no mistake; there is an answer. It’s just not a good one.
Our world is broken because it is not yet all that it was created it to be. From the time of the first human beings until now, things have gone awry on account of human selfishness. The reason we have no good answer to the why question is that the answer will inevitably come back on humanity itself. As a result, we will continue to feel uncomfortable and unsettled here until something changes at a core level.
Jesus, too, was quite ill at ease in the world — despite the fact that it was and still is His world. This can be seen most clearly, perhaps, just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. John 11 contains the easiest verse in the Bible to memorize which is also one of the rawest displays of the human heart of Jesus.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied. And Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11: 32-37 NIV)
There have been several suggestions as to why Jesus “wept” on this occasion:
- He was sad that his friend had died;
- He was frustrated in His friends’ lack of faith;
- He was saddened by the grief of Lazarus’ sisters;
- He was showing His disciples that it was ok to cry (St. Augustine).
All of these have some merit on their own and together, but I am convinced that each still misses the point. I believe what is really at work here is Jesus’ deep disappointment with a world that has severely failed to live up to its intention and potential. What we see displayed in John 11 is an emotion that most of us would share with Jesus when we feel overwhelmed by the brokenness of our world. And this emotion comes out most frequently, at least for me, in the face of unjust suffering and death.
Here the church father Cyril of Alexandria (378-444 CE) writes most aptly:
The Jews thought that Jesus wept on account of the death of Lazarus, but in fact he wept out of compassion for all humanity, not mourning Lazarus alone but all of humanity, which is subject to death, having justly fallen under so great a penalty. (1)
In my opinion, Cyril nailed it. Jesus wept because this world is, for lack of a better phrase, “messed up.” Jesus wept because the consequences of human selfishness and the brokenness of the world were on display right in front of him. They were affecting those he cared about, and the despair of the world’s backwardness was heavy in the air.
Something is seriously wrong with our world. But Jesus came, died, rose again . . . and is coming again so that someday we will live in a world that is all God created it to be. In Jesus, and only in Jesus, we have hope.
For the reader who wants to know more about Cyril of Alexandria…
WHO WAS CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA
Cyril was born in Egypt and began studying theology at an early age as his family held high spiritual rank in the Alexandrian church. He became a pastor at the age of 25 and studied under his uncle Theophilus who became a major opponent of John Chrysostom. How could anyone not love Chrysostom? 🙂
Cyril eventually replaced Theophilus as archbishop of Alexandria where he combated the Nestorian heresy with every fiber of his being. The Nestorians claimed that Christ’s humanity and divinity were like two halves of his body with no unity; perhaps they were even in conflict with each other. Cyril argued from a biblical standpoint that Jesus did not have a split-personality-type of nature, but rather He was in fact fully God in the flesh and his humanity and divinity were linked.
Cyril was in charge of the First Council of Ephesus in 431, which is among the seven most important ecumenical councils of the imperial church era. His major emphasis was the same as above: that the Divine essence of God was fully present in Jesus’ humanity, meaning that when Jesus wept over the broken world it represented the truest emotions of God’s entire being.
Cyril died just before his 70th birthday on June 27, 444.
(1) Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, Library of Catholic Fathers (1881), 48:123-24.