And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:6)
The Scriptures and Orthodox theology are clear that God is not just a super human being – God is not merely an omnipotent and omniscient human writ large. God is totally other, and whatever words we might apply to us humans – being, nature, person, existing – cannot then rightfully be applied to God. Or, conversely, if we use words like being, existence, nature for God, then we can’t also use them for humans or any part of creation. God is clearly a transcendent being, not limited by space and time, but rather we all exist within God (Acts 17:28).
And yet . . . Scriptures also contain images of God which are quite anthropomorphic – in which God is quite humanized. Or, at least our experience of God and our description of the encounter with God is put purely in human terms. For the transcendent God is also immanent and in God’s closeness to us we experience God in ways we understand – as Father and mother, as love and lover. We come to realize that when God says that we humans are made in God’s image and likeness, we are closer to God than we imagine, and God is much closer to us than dogmatic theology can ever reveal.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious . . . He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars, he gives to all of them their names. (Psalm 147:1-4)
The same God who creates the heavens and the earth, the stars and the entire universe, is also near the brokenhearted. And, there may be good reason for God’s being near the brokenhearted, as we see in the opening Scripture verse of this blog: for God experienced grief from, through and in the humans God had created.
Some probably are not much impressed with a God whose reaction to human sin and violence is inner grief and brokenheartedness. “Why doesn’t God just fix what’s wrong with humans and creation!?!”
The God who not only loves creation but Who is love, suffers because of and with and in creation. The transcendent God who lives in all eternity who is incomprehensible, ineffable and indescribable, still reveals Himself in terms that we can relate to and experience. This is all part of the great mystery of God. God doesn’t have blood vessels or a stomach or a throat or a blood-pumping heart, and yet God’s reaction to fallen creation is described in visceral terms. God knows our pain and still loves us. God is willing to suffer pain because of us and with us and for us. Jesus, the incarnate God, experiences this pain and brokenheartedness.
And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:32-38)
Jesus wished that the hour of His death might be avoided and was troubled to the heart of His being. Yet in love, He knew He would endure such heartbreak to deliver humanity from slavery to sin and death. He took upon Himself the sin of the world, and suffered. Yet, He said to His disciples:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
Even though Christ experienced pain in His own heart, brokenheartedness, grief and distress, He tells us not to let our hearts be troubled. We are to trust in Him . . . which we find on a daily level to be very difficult to do because we do not see how that trust will alleviate the pain and suffering and problems we must endure. Christ did not tell us that our lives would be trouble free. Rather, He promised us tribulation – that tribulation which grieved God at the beginning of creation and which distressed Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.
I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
When we grieve and are brokenhearted because of the world, God is near to us. And God’s promise is that the pain and sorrow of this world are not the last word, for God promises us Good News.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelations 21:3-4)