I could make you a list of the reasons that, following 3 years in seminary and even a degree upon completion, I did not go into ministry in a lead position. We’d start with 1. I’m not a good listener, move through to “lacks necessary levels of compassion” and “simply doesn’t want to bear the weight of the responsibility that comes with preaching.” But this evening helped me realize yet another reason: I don’t have enough answers to hard situations, and I’m easily frustrated by that fact.
Some friends and family are really hurting tonight as one of their good friends will likely leave this earth in the next several hours – just hours after delivering new life. It’s all so overwhelming and unexpected and completely heartbreaking. And try as one might to find one, there isn’t a good “reason”. The typical Christian response generally follows the lines of “We don’t know God’s plans, we just have to trust that He is good.” And for someone who hasn’t experienced God’s goodness (or hasn’t comprehended that experience), I can understand why such an explanation falls short. Goodness, anyone who has watched the funeral scene of Steel Magnolias with Sally Field’s soliloquy knows this.
Death is all-around hard; it’s most difficult for those left close in the wake. So in some ways when we ask, “why her?” we’re also asking “why me?” as we bear the pain of grief. Our enlightened minds want to know cause and effect, so we can prevent future pain and ensure fairness in the distribution of hurt. But these situations don’t provide what we’re looking for. We have more questions than answers, more pain than joy, more anger than understanding. You’re right. It’s not fair.
Jesus had a friend that died. The story in the book of John can lead one to many different “applications” and understandings, but here’s what I cling to: Jesus wept. And not just because his friend “who he dearly loved” had died, but also because he stood there and saw Mary, another beloved friend and When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
Jesus knew the end of Lazarus’ story: he would rise again. All along Jesus had been explaining that Lazarus would be okay. But at the sight of a friend grieving, he broke down in tears. Perhaps part of it was seeing a grave marked “Lazarus”. Maybe a little of it involved his disappointment that his friends didn’t believe what he’d been saying. But the puddle around Mary’s toes surely made his heart heavy and his eyes brim. The human experience of losing someone you love – and watching those you love hurt – was too much. Not even reason and understanding (the answers!) could help Jesus put up a stoic front.
Perhaps a real pastor could provide a better answer. Maybe there really is a scripture out there that puts it simply and says “this is why. Now you have peace.” But I’ve only experienced this in the messy form, grief with tears and regret and pain and a Jesus that says, “I hate that this hurts so bad” and then stands there and cries with me. My hope is that in the coming days, that Jesus makes His presence known, that he weeps with us and for us.
That’s all I have.