Two years ago, my husband of nearly thirty years died from brain cancer. He was fifty-two years old and otherwise healthy. The summer before his diagnosis he was hiking mountains with his work buddies, although he had been suffering for several years from the effects of the growing tumor in his brain that we didn’t know about. By God’s grace, he survived two and a half years after his diagnosis, giving us time to wrap our heads around the possibility that he and I were not going to grow old together. It was two and a half years of near constant trauma, though. Treatments, side effects, heartache and physical deterioration took a toll on him and me and our grown children. I had never before known the kind of heartache I felt from watching him suffer and from losing him in death. I hope I never experience it again, not that way, not that deeply. My heart broke and calcified as I watched him take his last breaths. I had no sense that angels were near, only utter devastation. God made sure I was not alone in that moment, but it was the loneliest moment I ever experienced.
The most difficult part of my healing process has been the spiritual part. I challenged every promise of God’s I knew. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1) “God causes all things to work together for good, to those who love God…” (Romans 8:28) By God’s great grace, He wrestled with me through every challenge I threw at Him and showed me what were truths and what were lies. One challenge that persists in spite of my tremendous healing concerns His promise that He has endured every temptation that I endure.
“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2:17, 18
In order for God’s great plan for my redemption to work, Jesus had to be made like me ‘in all things.’ But, Jesus lived life on this earth as a single man. He never married. He, as a human being, did not have a lifelong mate. He did not suffer the loss of a lifelong mate. He did not grow emotionally interconnected to the same degree as with a lifelong mate. He did not share in deep emotional intimacy more days with one specific human being than without. He had close friends, friends as close as or perhaps closer than brothers. He suffered the loss of family members. It is not the same. Anyone who has lost a lifelong mate knows that it just isn’t the same. How could He possibly know the temptations I have fought? How could He know the depth of my despair? How could He have felt the interminable loneliness, the feeling of being cheated out of the life I had built, the tragedy of having my dreams stolen from me?
He has. He does.
God uses several metaphors in the Bible to describe His relationship with me. The shepherd-sheep metaphor permeates every generation of God’s people.
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” John 10:11
The father-child metaphor is one of the most beloved.
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,” Romans 8:16
The bride-groom-marriage metaphor is perhaps the most mysterious.
“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.” Ephesians 5:28-30
These metaphors are more than literary devices. God describes in human terms His complex relationship with me which is much more than any one metaphor. He relates to me on multiple levels at any given moment. My interactions with Him are always as rich and multi-faceted as I allow them to be. He is at all times my Shepherd, my Father and my Groom. The images He evokes in the metaphors are mysteries revealed in language I can understand, yet I will use eternity to discern them fully.
In His metaphors, He gives accurate descriptions of His behavior toward me and His expectations of me. As His sheep, I am to trust Him and follow Him. As His child, I am to obey Him. As His bride, I am to be loyal to Him and cherish Him. As my Shepherd, He is always working in my best interests. As my Father, He protects, disciplines and guides me. As my Groom, He loves me and cares for me personally and passionately.
Back to Ephesians…chapter five, verses twenty-two through thirty-three are rightly used when discussing God’s plan for the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Paul uses the relationship of Jesus with the church to teach men their responsibilities to their wives. Then Paul refers to the “mystery” in verse thirty-two, a previous unknown in the relationship of Jesus with the church. Just as a groom and his bride become “one flesh,” I also become united with Jesus, a literal member “of His body.” At my baptism, I receive the indwelling of His Spirit (Acts 2:38). My relationship with Him when I become His sheep, His child, His bride, becomes emotionally and spiritually intimate, personal, and interdependent.
When Jesus became a part of the human context, He learned to feel in human emotion what He had been experiencing since the very beginning of time…love, betrayal and the loss of a great love every time one who belonged to Him left Him. Every time one of His own who has rejected Him dies physically that great love is lost to Him for eternity. They become dead to Him spiritually, forever severed from contact with Him. And He grieves personally and passionately. There is no other path, no other mechanism to forgive the sin that impedes humanity’s ability to spend eternity with Him than through the sacrifice He Himself provides. He loses all of the hopes, all of the dreams, all of the carefully laid plans, the companionship, the spiritual and emotional connection He has with each and every one who transcends beyond His reach when they die still accountable for their sin. He is cheated out of the relationships that were supposed to last for eternity.
Once He became fully human as well as fully divine in the earthly domain, He began to experience the same depth of any human loss, multiplied and intensified on a divine scale across millenial generations. And He carries that human and divine grief experience with Him even now.
“Therefore when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” John 11:32-36
Jesus states to His disciples earlier in their journey to Bethany that He was going to raise Lazarus so that they would believe (John 11:14, 15). He delayed two days going to Bethany, even after He was told Lazarus was very ill, to give Lazarus time to die. Jesus does not weep at the awareness that His dear friend is dead. He weeps at the grief He sees in Mary and Martha and in those who accompany them. He understands their grief inside out, and it moves the Son of God to tears!
His love for me is personal, intimate, unrelenting, boundless, fearless. He knows what I know about grief and so much more. His losses far exceed my own. His sense of abandonment runs fathoms deeper. His loneliness outpaces mine by thousands of light-years. His despair envelops Him far beyond what suffocates me. His lost dreams and plans echo plaintively through eternity for each and every soul who becomes eternally lost to Him. What is the point of all of His work, of all of His agonizing sacrifice? I am the point. Each soul He redeems for Heaven is the point. Each soul He loves beyond human comprehension is the point.
Oh, how He loves me!
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7
All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.