Our firstborn has been learning that sometimes when things break they can’t be fixed.
He’ll bring a toy to Daryl or me with a quivering lip and ask us to fix it. Most of the time we can—between duct tape and super glue and a screwdriver, most toys will go back together. But sometimes they won’t. And in those moments, when we break the news to him that Thomas the train can’t recover from a leaky battery or the fin that snapped off his race car is a goner, his sweet face falls like the world is ending.
His tears plainly say, “But… I thought you could fix everything!” It’s a tough lesson, and I hate that he has to learn it.
Do you remember when you first learned this? That sometimes things break and will never be the same? The ankle I broke in high school will never be as strong as the other. The car Daryl totaled in college had to be scrapped. A house that burns down is done with. Things break. Chaos happens. People die.
We live in a world of broken hearts. Our homes and neighborhoods and schools and churches are filled with broken hearts. Who among us has not lost a loved one far too soon?
The poet W.H. Auden, after the death of a beloved friend, wrote, “The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Poor away the ocean and sweep up the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
Where have you met sorrow ?
The Gospel of Luke tells the story of the city of Nain, where Jesus is trailed by his disciples and a crowd. As they walk toward the gate, they have to make way, as a dead person is being carried out in a funeral procession. There are all the usual first-century accouterments—mourners shrieking and wailing, flute and cymbal players, and the dead man himself hoisted aloft in a long, wicker basket (coffins weren’t used at that time).
12 As Jesus approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
Jesus sees this procession coming and, in the midst of the crowd, spots the dead man’s mother. This son was all she had, and now he is cold and still, surrounded by mourners. When the Lord sees this mother’s face, he is moved with compassion.
Jesus—God-with-us, God-in-the-flesh—is consistently deeply moved by the plight of human people. Moved to the depths of his core. To his heart. To his guts.
Yet Jesus just being moved with compassion does us little good, doesn’t it? We’ve all been through seasons when people say things to us like, “Oh, I feel for you,” or “Oh, my heart is breaking for you,” but then they don’t do anything. And we’re like, “Yeah, that’s great that you feel sad for me, but your sadness really doesn’t help me at all. Can you offer a meal or a ride or a listening ear, along with your compassion?”
Compassion for the sake of compassion does nothing but give us a brief moment of solidarity. That’s worth something, I guess, but it’s not what it could be.
Yet God is not just compassionate. God is powerful, too. As this funeral procession carries on, Jesus reaches out and touches the funeral bier where the dead man lies. “Don’t cry,” he says to the man’s mother. And in the moment that follows, Jesus claims as his own what death had seized as its prey.
“Young man,” Jesus says, “I say to you, get up!”
The dead man sits up and begins to talk—what did he say, I wonder?—and Jesus gives him back to his mother. The crowd is amazed. “Surely God has come to help his people,” they proclaim. Surely God has.
NT Wright once wrote, “I don’t think much of the Bible is actually addressing the question, “Why is there suffering?” but rather the question, “What is God doing about it?” We are free to ask the “Why,” but God tends to answer it with a “Who,” in the person of Jesus.
Psalm 56 speaks of God’s presence in our suffering, in our pain, sleepless nights: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record? Then my enemies will retreat in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.”
Like the man on the funeral bier, we were all marked for death. Yet like this dead man, Jesus claims us. He claims you. Jesus reaches across the divide carved by our sin and the sin of the world and the suffering and brokenhearted-ness that bows us low and says, “You are mine.” In our sufferings, Jesus is. In our joys, Jesus is. Our God is for us. God is for you.
When we’re suffering, our pain can drown out everything else. Pain is loud. Grief is noisy. But because God is for us, even in suffering we can look ahead to the final word. As 1 Peter tells us, “We can rejoice in all things, even though we have to suffer different kinds of trouble for a little while now.”
Jesus is moved with compassion. Jesus is powerful. Jesus is with us and for us.
I don’t know about you, but I am going to cling to that hope.