Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Part 4: "And he was deeply troubled."


In Part 4 of our online examination of the biblical account of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead, we will focus on Jesus' emotions. You can compare different translations, different videos, and different approaches toward the story.  You can also skip portions of the lesson that you don't find interesting or helpful.  Earlier Parts of the study can still be accessed through the Blog Archive menu.  I hope you will continue to check out the various features of each lesson and let me know what you think.  Please also let me know if you see any technical issues with the operation of the site. 


Lord, remind me that you are with us always, to the end of the age. Help me to relax, and to let go of all distractions.  Focus my attention on you and broaden my understanding of what you want me to know.  Amen.


In each part of this online study, we have looked at the same story in a different translation.  As indicated in earlier parts of the study, the account of the raising of Lazarus appears in the Gospel According to John, Chapter 11, verses 1-44.  Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this study (see the Blog Archive menu) have included the account as translated in the New Revised Standard Version, the Authorized (King James) Version, and the New International Version (NIV), respectively.  Here is the passage again, this time as translated in the New Living Translation (NLT):

A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is the Mary who later poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, your dear friend is very sick.”
But when Jesus heard about it he said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”
But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”
Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”
12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.
14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”
16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”
17 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. 18 Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, 19 and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. 20 When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”
25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” 28 Then she returned to Mary. She called Mary aside from the mourners and told her, “The Teacher is here and wants to see you.” 29 So Mary immediately went to him.
30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

Discussion:   "Then Jesus Wept."

There is a long history of theological discussion regarding the so-called "doctrine of divine impassability."  The phrase "divine impassability" refers to the notion that God, being sovereign, all-powerful, and eternal, would not be subject to pain,  suffering or emotions.  The Gospel of John insists right at the beginning of the first chapter, that Jesus is the "word" that became "flesh and dwelled among us." If Jesus is really who John says he is, then could Jesus have experienced real emotions?

The biblical account certainly does not present Jesus as emotionless in connection with Lazarus' death.  In the New Living Translation of the passage (shown above), Jesus is described as "angry," "troubled," and weeping.  The New International Version says he was "deeply moved in spirit and troubled."  The New Revised Standard Version describes him as "greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved."  The Authorized (King James) Version says he "groaned in the spirit, and was troubled." In all of these translations, Jesus is described as displaying very real emotions.  Is that a scandal?

It must have seemed strange to those who saw him as a messianic candidate.  Yes, Jesus was able to do amazing things.  But how could the real Messiah be weeping?

Church teaching has long described Jesus as having two "natures," a fully divine nature and a fully human nature.  Accordingly, he has been understood as fully God, but also, in his full humanity, as exhibiting a full range of human emotions, including compassion, anger, pity, annoyance, sorrow, and, of course, love.

But what of his divine nature?  Jesus repeatedly described a God who cares about humanity.  According to the famous passage in John 3:16, Jesus said, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, ..."  Many of the prophets also described God with such phrases as "slow to anger and plentiful in mercy."  Could God really be saddened by human foolishness?  Angered by human intransigence? Delighted by human faithfulness?

It's a mystery, isn't it?  We want to think of God as too powerful to be overcome by any human action, and too all-knowing to be fooled by any human sneakiness. But we also want a God who really loves us.  When I was a little boy, I used to like to rough-house with my dad and my grandfather with total abandon, confident that I could not really do anything that would hurt them.  But I also believed, quite rightly, that they really loved me.  I wanted them to be proud of me, and happy when I behaved well.  Whether I realized it or not, the idea that they really loved me also implied that my words and actions could really hurt their feelings. Could that be true of God too?

In this episode about the raising of Lazarus, Jesus demonstrated at least a noteworthy human vulnerability.  He visibly shared in human suffering and sorrow. Shortly after the raising of Lazarus, he would take things further:  he would undergo the human anguish of betrayal, the physical suffering of whipping and crucifixion, and death itself.  Assuming Jesus to be more than just a deluded country preacher, I think those experiences only make sense as a demonstration of divine love.  To be more than merely tragic, the death of Jesus had to be more than the execution of Jesus the man.  It also had to be a loving, self-sacrificial gift from God. 


Do you find it comforting or troubling to think of God as having emotion?  Is it more comforting to think of God as above and beyond all emotion?  Is it easier to relate to Jesus, when we read about him exhibiting understandable human emotions at Lazarus' tomb, or when we read about him remaining super-humanly calm amid the storm on the sea? 

The Bible occasionally uses "anthropomorphic" descriptions of God, using phrases like "God was walking in the garden," or "the breath of God" or "the hand of God."  Most readers are comfortable with such phrases, even though they do not really think of God as literally walking like a human being or having human body parts.  If God has no emotion like love, though, how can we relate to God?  Could God's "love" be just a figure of speech?

What do you imagine the apostles thinking, as they saw Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus?

If Jesus was "angry" when he saw Mary and the crowd weeping before him, what was his anger directed at?  Was he angry at Mary or Martha?  At the crowd?  At himself, for being so "deeply moved"?  At death itself? 


Holy God, help us to know you in an ever-deepening love.  Help us to understand how you seek to relate to us by sharing in our suffering. In the midst of all the crises and sorrows of our lives, remind us that your love never fails. Although you have shared in our suffering and tasted the reality of death, you are not defeated.  You conquer all suffering and you destroy all death.  In the name of Jesus, the invincible savior, who raised Lazarus and who promises life to all of us, Amen.

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