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Tears: Towards a Biblical Theology

Greek influence on Christian thought left the church with many debates that distract from the core message that Jesus suffers with humanity. The mystery of the incarnation transcends Greek philosophy however and points to a God capable of suffering with and for humans. Hallman presents many early Christian debates on the nature of the incarnation in light of suffering in the person of Christ. The errors of Arius, Docetism, and the like represent attempts to explain suffering in the person of Christ in the framework of the Greek ideal of the impassability of God.[lxiv] Hallman concludes that contra Greek philosophy the paradox of the church’s theology results from the suffering and tears of God. He states, “In spite of the divine attributes of perfect changelessness and the incapacity to suffer, God’s divine Word did somehow suffer with us and for us.”[lxv] Hall observes that past the historical debates of homoousios and theotokos lies the truth that “God identifies with humanity.”[lxvi] Hallman explains the mystery by stating that the incarnational suffering of Christ involve a change of quality (morphē) that was a proslēpsis or addition to rather than a metabolē or transformation of nature.[lxvii] In other words, the tears of Jesus and the emotion of God add to His nature rather than transform His nature. God has, through His relationship with humans, demonstrated perfect love through the possibility and genuine expression of grief over the loss of human fellowship. The suffering of Christ in a unique way bridges the gap between fallen humanity and a perfect God as fallen humanity finds forgiveness through a perfect God who experiences the emotion of loss.

Liberation theology addresses human suffering. In liberation Christology “The hermeneutical key to understanding the death of Jesus is the identification of the Crucified One with the crucified peoples.”[lxviii] A God who cries with His people forms an essential concept to the oppressed people of liberation theology. Sammy Alfaro continues,

On the cross, the Jesus of history reveals a suffering God who fulfills his purposes in history through weakness and love, and not retribution and force. Through the cross, God participates in the suffering of the world and it is this act of solidarity that the crucified peoples can find a hope for the future. The hope for the crucified peoples is faith in the resurrection of the crucified One.[lxix]

Unlike triumphalist western theology, the essential nature of many theologies in oppressed culture forms around the shared suffering and tears of Christ. Latin American feminine Mujerista theology establishes a Christology that emphasizes shared suffering in the “kin-dom” of God, the “Familia de Dios.” Mujerista Christology focuses on the compassionate suffering Brother, the faithful Companion of the suffering. Latinos frequently merge Jesus’ name into “Jesucristo” a blending of the human Jesus and the anointed Christ that emphasizes daily walking with the suffering. God appears as both human and divine sufferer.[lxx] The Roman Catholic emphasis on the suffering Christ on the crucifix reminds followers of Christ’s fellowship in suffering.

God shares human emotion and cries with humanity. Jesus appears as the ultimate expression of God’s desire for relationship with humans. Ellington observes, “The death of the impassable and passionless God has made room for a God who raises others from the dead, but only after he himself has laid down and died.”[lxxi] The Cross “makes suffering integral to the divine nature.”[lxxii] Jesus represents both the answer of God to human tears and the response of God to His own tears. Humans, like Job, cry out for answers and instead find the Person of Christ. Douglas John Hall writes, “The only satisfying answer is the one given to Job—the answer that is no answer but is the presence of the Answerer. It does not matter that the Answerer brings more questions than answers; for the answer is not the words as such but the living Word—the Presence itself.”[lxxiii] Jesus answers human tears by entering human suffering. Calvin Miller writes, “Jesus did not leave the world a get-well card, he got sick with it. He didn’t exempt himself from the pain he would later have to heal. He is in this hellish life with us, and further has guaranteed that his victory over all things negative has foreshadowed and guaranteed our own ultimate victory.”[lxxiv] Jesus wept with the mourners outside Lazarus’ tomb, He wept over Jerusalem, He wept over the cross, and He weeps with those who weep today.

The Relational Nature of Tears

Tears in Christian theology place God, humans, and the relationship between the two in the mysterious place of living theology rather than analytical and dogmatic theology.

Platonism and Aristotelian thinking influenced early Christianity in its concept of the “unmoved mover.” An omnipotent god could not actually suffer as the deity could simply address the cause of suffering. A suffering deity implies a deity less than fully god, as the deity is less than omnipotent. Greek thinking stresses the omnipotence of God at the expense of the omnipresence of God. To the Greek mind, a god must demonstrate infinite transcendence and remain untouched by humanity or emotions as an expression of the god’s limitless power. In human grief, Greek thinking creates tensions and problems. Tears on the face of an omnipotent God who could alleviate the suffering and longing causing the tears leaves the suffering person facing a God who cruelly will not address the suffering. The idea of shared tears presents either a God who is less than omnipotent, cruel, or in the case of Christianity a God who desires omnipresence more than omnipotence. God desires to know humans and be known by humans through shared presence. Moltmann observes, “A God who is only omnipotent is in himself an incomplete being, for he cannot experience helplessness and powerlessness…A man who experiences helplessness, a man who suffers because he loves, a man who can die, is therefore a richer being than an omnipotent God who cannot suffer, cannot love, and cannot die.”[lxxv] When God does not powerfully address human suffering, He seeks to be known in the situation. He remains omnipresent in that He remains present in the suffering as a fellow sufferer. The attributes of omnipresence and omnipotence can at times in this world create a mystery of mutually exclusivity.

The Greek concept of knowing appears primarily in the word “ginoskein” which means to stand back from something or someone and know it objectively.[lxxvi] The primary Hebrew concept of knowing stands in contrast to the Greek concept. The Hebrew word “yada” expresses knowing through experience or relationship.[lxxvii] To the Greek mind and much of contemporary society knowing God equates with knowing about God. God’s desire to know humanity proves absurd to the Greek mind, as He would already know all about any individual. His omniscience compromises His omnipresence. Hebrew thought presents a God who wants to know humans in a voluntary relationship. He wants to experience life together with His creation. Suffering and tears do not indicate a weak God but a relational God. Tears shared between God and humans lead to deeper relationship. Suffering and tears therefore fulfill the purpose of addressing both human and divine longing for relational wholeness. Paul addresses the aspect of shared suffering with God as relational wholeness. He writes, “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10).

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2017

About the Author: F. Wesley Shortridge, D.Min. (Evangel University, 2016), M.A. (Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, 2010), B.A. (Central Bible College, 2009), is the founding pastor of Liberty Community Church in Bealeton, Virginia. Facebook LinkedIn

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