The Bible has a lot to say about passing on the baton from one generation to another. It acknowledges that we come on the scene, peak and then wither away as the flowers of the field. Or it uses harvest imagery, of wheat and hay and barns.
It’s obvious that God understands aging and the passing of the generations because he created it that way, but did he really appreciate the ramifications of death for us in the human realm?
In the story of Lazarus’s resurrection (John 11) the point is made that after Jesus knew his friend was really sick, he deliberately delayed going to see him. As Martha said, perhaps reproachfully, when finally he made the short journey, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” But Jesus had said all along that Lazarus wasn’t going to remain dead, he was “going to wake him up.”
Still, focused as he was on the power of God and the powerful sign he was to give here, I read in this story that he was pretty much oblivious as to any other effect all of this was having on those around him.
It wasn’t until we reach verse 33 when Jesus finally witnesses the weeping and wailing that follow human death, that it seems to have hit home. It says that he became “troubled.” And then “Jesus wept.” And those keeping vigil with Martha and Mary noted how much he had loved Lazarus by observing that he too now mourned.
Many commentators have difficulty with all of this. After all, Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus, so why groan and shed tears? Not for Lazarus, I suggest, but for the misery he was now witnessing and perhaps understanding for the first time attached to this story and his actions. Yes, he knew what he was about to do, and yes, he saw the power of God at work here; but the ladies and their friends only experienced utter despair to this time. They didn’t see any way back for Lazarus, only the normal progression of all human life and death. And I suspect that Jesus, focused as he was on the power of God he was about to demonstrate, hadn’t really cottoned on. He was elated and buoyed up, but now he saw, really saw, the reality of death and what it wreaked on the human psyche.
This mighty sign is only recorded by John. Why not in the other gospels? Could it be, as Jesus told the disciples of John (Luke 7:22), tell him about all the dead being raised (among other healings, etc). All the gospels mention raising from the dead, but none of them focus on this one, and John does, not because of the miracle, but because of the sign (which is always his focus).
And so did Jesus learn that death, which is a temporary state for God, has much more acute ramifications for mortal human beings, or more so to those who survive a death and grieve and mourn for the one dead.
We may not mourn like others in this world, because we know of the certainty of the resurrection, but still be grieve at the passing of a loved one. And that’s how it should be.