How Can God’s Heart Break?

As we look at the state of the world, it is easy to succumb to the thinking of many who say, “Where is God?” Or, “Does God care about what is going on?” While it may seem ambitious to proclaim God’s compassion during this time, it is all the more important. God sees. He cares.

Hillsong Worship’s song, Hosanna, has a famous bridge with these lyrics sung to God: “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.”

Poetic. Beautiful. Yes, indeed. But perplexing as well. How can God’s heart break? He is God, after all. But throughout the Scriptural story there are windows into the divine anatomy—where we discover that the “heart” of God is far more visceral than some of us have ever realized.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. – Exodus 3:7

Yahweh tells Moses that the oppression and distress of the Israelites did not fall on deaf ears.

God is not tone-deaf to the problems of the world.

Heaven does not sound-proof the walls to block out the suffering of the world. In fact, the entire biblical storyline is about the rescue of creation, not its abandonment (Colossians 1:20 and Revelation 11:15 for example). But we aren’t there yet. We are here. And here, life is rather turbulent. It can feel like God is absent. When we feel this way we should remember the times when Jesus (God-incarnate) was accused of not caring.

We never need to look further than Jesus to see the heart of God on full display. And John 11 is one of the most insightful passages into what breaks the heart of God.

Follow the narrative of John 11:17-37 as Jesus goes to see Lazarus (His friend) who was on the brink of death. As the story tells, Jesus comes too late.

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 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.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

We can really feel like Mary and Martha at this time.

Similar to how they say things like (see v21, 32), we might be saying: “Lord, if you were really here, you would have prevented COVID-19. You would have ensured I wouldn’t have lost my job. You would have done things differently than how they are turning out!”

Mary and Martha had solid theology. They knew about the future hope of resurrection (v23). But they wanted hope to get them through today. They challenged the very compassion of Jesus.

John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the whole Bible, but one of the most pregnant with meaning. It simply says: “Jesus wept.”

Jesus saw their suffering through tear-stained eyes. He was not immune to the emotions that they felt. And He’s the same way with us—He knows our emotions too.

While John 11:38-44 tells the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the thing we need to meditate on is the compassion of Jesus; not just His power. Jesus knew that He was going to raise Lazarus! That was not a surprise to Him. And yet, He still wept concerning the temporal grief of the passing of a friend due to the brokenness of the world. The same is true in our world today—Jesus knows this current crisis isn’t the end of the story, that lots of hope for new life is still coming. But right now, He weeps with us.

And while we may be amazed at the raising of Lazarus (as we should be!) we might forget that Lazarus’ resuscitation led to an eventual return to the grave. Lazarus had to one-day face death again. And so his hope couldn’t be focused on the short-term, but had to be focused on the ultimate resurrection—the resurrection that will bring life to our bodies to never die again (1 Corinthians 15:53).

So, the miracle of John 11 isn’t only the miracle of Jesus’ mending Lazarus’ body, it is the miracle of Jesus’ heart bursting into tears.

Don’t miss this important truth: God not only hears our cries, He sheds tears with us.

We often rush to the hope of restoration—and that’s OK. However, sometimes we need to simply sit in the reality of where we are in the present and know that God is here; He cares; He weeps with us. He is not powerless to resolve the problem (even the problems that we, humans, instigated in the first place). Nevertheless, His heart breaks for our anguish.

God is not afraid of the dark (Psalm 139:7-12).

His love for us compels Him to abide with us even when we feel like He is absent. Perhaps what we need to remember most—like what Mary and Martha needed to—is that we are in the midst of the story, not on the final page.

God is a good author and He doesn’t let evil and suffering have the final word.

Redemption, not affliction, will be the final turn of the story for all those who trust in Him. Trust Him, even when we are in the thick of it. Trust in the One who weeps with you. His compassion will compel His action to deliver us.

We have this promise that one day the weeping will cease. When God and man are reconciled forevermore “He will wipe every tear” from our eyes (Revelation 21:4).

1 Comment

  1. Courey Marshall on June 5, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    I heard the song, “Hosanna” yesterday and it remind me of this message/blog from a couple months ago. The message was fitting for our circumstances then and you could make an argument that this message is even more fitting two months later (RIGHT NOW, TODAY). Thank you for this POWERFUL, yet ALWAYS RELEVANT message!

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