Over the last few days, you might have been following the headlines about EgyptAir flight 804. A few days ago, when the death toll first came out, I read that it was 66 passengers and crew lost on a plane built to carry 170. A wave of relief washed over me, that the plane wasn’t full to capacity.
And then I felt sick. 66 lives gone in a second, and I’m happy there weren’t more? What kind of twisted mentality is that?
We live on a horrifically dysfunctional earth. It’s a world where tiny children fight cancer, where schoolgirls are kidnapped into sexual slavery, where people die of hunger when a bowl of rice that costs 2 cents could save them, where elderly folks are left lonely and filthy in nursing-home beds.
It hurts and it’s overwhelming. So we avoid it, try to rationalize it (only 66 lives), stuff it down, or grieve briefly and then hurry on because if we actually stop and realize the weight of all the suffering, we’ll crumble. I get this, really. I have a panic disorder that can flare up with too much pain and stress. When your body reacts to heavy, fearful things by shutting down, you tend to run from those things.
But self-preservation isn’t a virtue found anywhere in the Bible. As Christians, we are called to more.
So what does the Bible say about how we engage with a torn-apart world?
I want to look at two episodes from the New Testament: the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), and the story of Lazarus’ raising from the dead (John 11). Both stories show Jesus coming in direct contact with this world’s brokenness. They’re a little different: the woman’s brokenness is the consequence of her choice, while Lazarus’ death is brokenness from living in a fallen world. But both are the results, direct and indirect, of sin.
In John 8, Jesus is teaching in the temple when there’s a sudden commotion. A group of Pharisees and religious teachers—a mob, really—enter the courtyard, dragging a woman they’ve caught committing adultery. They shove her in front of Jesus and demand, “Teacher, in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
The woman shrinks into herself, clutching her torn clothes, ugly guilt written all over her face. And Jesus says nothing. He bends down, into the dirt, and writes with His finger.
“Tell us!” the Pharisees insist. But Jesus keeps writing. The only One in that entire rabble of accusers who has any real right to judge her, and He’s silent.
Finally, He straightens up and looking each man in the eyes, says “Any one of you who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her.”
The arrogant, challenging crowd goes silent. Shoulders droop, feet start to shuffle. One by one the men slink away, their hypocrisy exposed by Jesus’ mercy, until the woman is left alone before Jesus.
“Woman,” He asks, “where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she stammers in shock and relief.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” He says gently. “Go and sin no more.” He rescues her from her sin and then commands that sin, the death in her soul, to STOP. And she stands straight, able to breathe again for the first time since the mob found her, and walks away into new life.
The set-up in John 11 is simple: Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, has died suddenly. Jesus takes his disciples to Bethany and when they arrive, Mary runs out to fall at His feet. Sobbing, she cries out, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Two things stick out to me, reading this account. Jesus already knows what the end of the story is. He’s fully aware that he’s going to put life back in Lazarus’s body, that in about five minutes the tears will turn to laughter. The pain and despair are so, so temporary and He knows that. But He looks at Mary’s anguish, kneeling before Him in the dirt, at Martha’s tears back in the crowd, and He weeps. He cries, simply because they’re hurting.
The second thing is that John says Jesus, seeing the sisters’ pain, was “deeply moved”. The Greek word used here, embrimaomai, literally means “snort like a horse”. The expression is the most emotionally intense found in the New Testament. Jesus isn’t mildly ticked that Lazarus is dead. He’s furious. Picture His eyes blazing through the tears, teeth grinding, strong hands clenched into fists. Better than anyone else, the Creator of life knows how fundamentally wrong it is that death even exists, that it has power here, and He will not tolerate that power.
Jesus walks up to Lazarus’ tomb, fixes His angry gaze on the door and commands death to STOP. “Lazarus, come out!” he shouts loud. And somewhere in that tomb, Lazarus’ dead heart starts beating. His lungs suddenly expand and he takes his second first breath. Out he walks, in his grave clothes, to the sunshine.
There’s a pattern developing here of Jesus being relentlessly present in pain. He wades into the world’s dirt again and again, despite the cost. He shields hurting people from condemnation while not tolerating their sin. He extends mercy, calls out hypocrisy. He weeps for the hurt and gets ferociously angry at the wrongness of it all. He is emotionally available to the full suffering of this world He’s come to save.
Love like this is hard. It triggers anxiety and exhaustion and heartbreak. It led our God to torture and execution on a piece of wood.
“Pick up your cross and follow Me” isn’t just an explanation of what the world might do to us for following Him. It’s a command that we will love the world to the point of ultimate sacrifice, like He did. Are we ready for that? Are we ready to walk into the broken places, to weep and protect and offer mercy and be furious?
One of the Grafted team’s favorite phrases is “not too young to move mountains.” I want to encourage and even challenge all of us, that moving mountains begins by moving one pebble at a time. It’s not that we’ll necessarily find ourselves raising a friend from the dead. Some of the miracles Jesus did may very well be a preview of a restored Earth, not a blueprint for our daily lives. For us, it might start with one bowl of rice, one mosquito net, one soiled bedpan, one brick of a house, one hour spent in prayer allowing ourselves to hurt for the things that God hurts about.
Every day the world breaks a little more, whether we open ourselves up to it or not. When a prostitute looks around and says “help me”, who steps forward saying “I will”? When children’s tummies bloat from malnutrition, who shows up with electrolytes and protein? When refugees are running and hiding and drowning because there’s no safe place, who opens their homes without fear? When the spiritual death in our neighbors’ and friends’ souls is slowly killing them, who gets on their knees and goes to battle?
There’s a lot of amazing believers out there who already do this. But couldn’t it be all of us? What if it could be said of every one of us that to find a Christian, you should look in the places too awful, too dirty, for anyone else to go?
We are ambassadors of the hope that the world was never meant to be broken, and that someday it will be whole again.
We have that hope because when Jesus comes into the picture, condemned women and dead men rise up, from circles of judgement and underground tombs. And then He turns and walks further into the dirt, towards you and me.
“Come out,” He says, Life standing surrounded by Death.
We just have to follow.