Confusion. Anguish. Helplessness.
That’s what I felt as my family and I lost my young niece at eight months of age. It was a tragic mistake outside of our control. She was innocent—why did she lose out on life? She was beautiful—how could this happen to her? She was young—why was she robbed of opportunity?
These are the kinds of questions that we wrestled with for months. Sometimes we still do. No one could explain it to us. No one had the answers for it. It just happened, suddenly, one day. One day I was banging Tupperware together with my niece on the living room floor, we as happy as could be. Twelve days later I was attending her memorial service, her casket sitting before me.
Recalling this even today still brings me to the verge of tears. I would echo King Theoden’s words in The Two Towers this way: “No family should have to bury a child.” What a hard, fallen world we live in, where the young die young, and the innocent pay the ultimate price.
If anything touched me the most in The Passion of the Christ, it was the portrayal of Christ’s family and close confidants. When we read the story in Scripture, it can be easy to take for granted its facts: Jesus was arrested; Jesus died; Jesus came back to life. Yet doing so robs us of a human connection with, not only Christ Himself, but His family and friends as well.
If you’ve ever thought the disciples and Jesus’ family strange for not remembering His words about His resurrection, you’re not alone. I’ve read the Story, thinking, “Man, why didn’t these people get it?” Time and again, Christ predicted both His death and His resurrection—and both seemed to take them all by surprise. Why didn’t they remember? Why did they think the story over and done?
But in watching The Passion, something came to my mind. I suddenly saw myself in their place. His family, Peter, and John arrive at the court amid confusion during His arrest. They had to be thinking: It can’t be real. This can’t be happening. Why have they done this? My thoughts. I thought of my little niece, and the shock of losing her. My heart ached as I thought of their fear, their pain. It was real. It happened to them. They lost out on someone they loved dearly.
Why don’t you love Me as they did? Why don’t you love Me in the way you did your niece?
The question came to me suddenly, and it shocked me. I thought of my love for my niece, with the shock and confusion of losing her, and it suddenly occurred to me: if I had ever thought of Christ’s death in the same respect, it was in moments too few and far between to remember. But I suddenly realized: I love this Man, and in my love for Him I should feel the shock and confusion and pain of losing someone near and dear to me, as I did for me niece.
I have to consider: the disciples and Jesus’ family may have missed the facts, but they seemed to get something else. They had a connection with Christ as no one else did. They felt something. Not emotionalism as might be attributed to some within the charismatic movement: but emotion for the Man. They acknowledged their human connection to Him in this way: they lost Him, and it hurt. It shocked them, and in their shock they may have forgotten the facts; but they remembered the Man.
Our modern world has in so many ways tried to turn people’s response to the Gospel into such a sterile, untouchable love as to rob it of everything but intellectualism. It seems many people associate “knowing God” with church attendance, or “loving Jesus” with simply saying the words.
But I contend that for all our intellectualism, we’ve often failed to understand what it means to get down on our face and cry for the Someone we love. To feel the pain of losing Him. To engage Him with our emotions. Again, not emotionalism, but emotionally. To know Him as fully human and acknowledge our human connection with Him by tapping into the hurt of losing Him in those moments.
Have we so quickly forgotten that our Jesus died? Hold that thought—yes, He died for us, and He came back to life, but we’ll come to that in a moment. Just dwell on that for a moment. Those who love Him also share in the pain of losing Him, however momentary that loss might be.
We’re so eager to move on, to get to the happy ending so that we can blink away the long night as though it didn’t exist. But I think this exposes another, deeper flaw in our theology. I think this is how most people view their faith—if something bad happens and they feel sad or depressed or lonely, then their faith must not be strong enough to see all the good in it. How sadly mistaken this thought is! And how much damage it is doing to those who believe it!
But for those who have experienced grief, we know that there’s no such thing as blinking it away. The journey to life and light is a long and sometimes dark one. That’s not to say that there isn’t joy in this life, or that joy is far from those who grieve. On the contrary, the joy of His constancy is more than any of us can understand when we will submit ourselves to it. But we’ve so long confused happiness with joy, especially where it matters most: in our grief and in the pain of our humanity. I’m not advocating despair—the fullness of the Gospel is that Christ is alive: that He has brought us eternal life and eternal hope! Yet in Christ’s death, Scripture gives us every indication that God, the angels, His family, even nature responded in grief. Should we, then, so lightly tread upon this unhappy moment because of our impatience and fear of pain and sorrow?
Have we forgotten that Christ was both fully divine and fully Man? Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t easier, safer somehow, to embrace Christ’s divinity and not His humanity. It was, after all, the Divine that kept us apart from Him to begin with—His perfection apart from our imperfection. It was His Divinity that brought Him back to life. That’s happy; that seems emotionally safe enough. However, to acknowledge Christ’s divinity—vitally important and unsafe as that truly is—doesn’t justify dismissing His humanity: yet I seem to see it done all the time.
Now, I understand where some of this hesitancy to embrace His humanity comes from. Christ is God. He is divine, holy, pure, righteous, and altogether good and perfect. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Savior, Prince of Peace, the One who is the Beginning and the End.
None of these truths are in dispute here.
But I sense that there is this nagging fear that if we focus on Christ’s humanity we will bring Him down from His divinity, that we will somehow usurp Him from His throne. The problem with this thinking is that He already voluntarily offered Himself to us this way. He stepped off the throne, He made Himself as the least, He became human while still fully God. It is not within our power to dethrone Him (except within our hearts, should we deny Him also the Divinity that is one with His humanity).
For so many, He is Lord; but not Friend. He is Savior; but not Lover. He is Charity; but not Loveable—not, at least, in the fullness of His revelation to us. Yet He came to us as both God and Man. He should be both Lord and Friend, Savior and Lover, Charity and Loveable in the fullest sense. Isn’t it through the Man that we gain access to the Divine? If not, then why the Incarnation? Why the death and resurrection?
Romans 5 is clear in this: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (19, NKJV).
In this old fallen world, joy doesn’t come without hardship, perfection doesn’t come without pain, life doesn’t come without death. One day every tear shall be wiped away, but this is not that day. Here, the tears still fall, and we were not meant to deny them their place in God’s path to healing. His revelation tells me that I will one day see my beautiful niece again. I know in my heart that this is true. But my heart also tells me that I have loved and lost, and it hurts—hurts ever so much while this life separates me from her.
I am learning to love Him the same way: I have no need to fear evil passing through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, to hesitate connecting with His humanity as much as His divinity, to experience the pain of losing Him as one that I love: for it deepens the realization of my love for Him.
For here is joy and the hope even in the midst of my pain: He is alive, and He is with me. Nothing can steal that promise away, not even death itself. The Story does continue. It doesn’t end with pain and loss—but we must remember that these too are a part of the Story, inseparable from, though overshadowed by, the soon-to-come healing and restoration. And because of Him—the joy He has brought out of suffering, the perfection He has brought out of pain, the life He has brought out of death—I will again also be reunited with her, my beautiful and precious little niece.
There what was lost is found—this joy is mine and yours.