Expression - Weeping with a friend

Musings in CMi and the Bible is a 12-part series on each of the 12 Dimensions of Culture of the Cultural Mapping Inventory (CMi). You can find the overview article here.

This musing is about the Cultural Dimension of Expressing Emotions. Are feelings and emotions revealed and expressed freely and uninhibited (both verbal and non-verbal), or are they concealed and subdued, seeing the mastering of emotions as the correct thing to do? 

Weeping with a friend

What would you do if a good friend passed away and you’re attending the funeral? Would you let your tears and emotions flow freely, or would you try to hold it together to give them a “dignified” send-off?

How about when you know your friend will miraculously arise from the dead an hour later? Would you still let your grief flow freely with the others?

Expressing your emotions freely or concealing them has to do with your personality and it also has very much to do with your cultural preferences. Some cultures allow emotions to be expressed freely in almost every circumstance and other cultures stress the fact that hiding your emotions in most circumstances (especially in public) is the appropriate thing to do.

In the Bible, God revealed Himself in the Israelite culture and the Israelite culture was a culture that very much allowed showing one’s emotions. People would show their grief and anger by tearing their clothes, heaping ash on their heads, pulling out their beards, gnashing their teeth, etc. Many times, God shows his emotions freely in his interactions with the Israelites. However, there are also instances where God chose to conceal his emotions…

(This is not an endorsement of Revealing Emotions as the biblical way preference on this continuum. It was simply the preference of the culture that God chose to reveal Himself in.)

A notable story of concealing emotion is the story of Job’s friends. When disaster struck Job, his friends came to him, expressed emotions out loud and then sat in silence with Job for seven days and seven nights, concealing emotions (Job 3:11-13)

Growing up in a Jewish culture, Jesus learnt to express emotions freely. A large part of his ministry was healing those who were sick and in bondage, turning sadness into joy.

The sickness and death of Lazarus

The story of Lazarus is one that stands out to me. You can read it in the Gospel of John, chapter 11.

John 11:3-4 NIV – So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.”

When Jesus was told that Lazarus was sick, He already knew that Lazarus would die and would be resurrected from death. When Jesus states, “this sickness will not end in death…”, He knew that death would temporarily be part of the journey (John 11:11-13). The implicit or indirect part of the words the sisters sent to Jesus was that He should come as soon as possible to heal Lazarus.

There is, of course, the question whether God caused this sickness or not and the Bible is silent about who caused this sickness. They were and we still are living in a broken world that will be completely restored at Christ’s second coming. Sickness is part of this brokenness.

When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany (it was a few days walking after his two days of lingering!) Lazarus had been dead and buried for 4 days. He didn’t immediately raise him from the dead but first met with the next of kin, Martha and Mary.

John 11:18-19 NIV – Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.

What is implied in the story is that Mary & Martha were single, and their parents had passed away. Hence, they were living with their brother Lazarus. Losing Lazarus was especially devastating in this setting since he served as the head of the household, probably the breadwinner and definitely the protector of the family. The loss of their brother had great consequences for them and many Jews came to comfort Mary and Martha in this tragic loss.

Jesus meets the next of kin

When Jesus met Martha, she expressed frustration and some hope. She knew and believed that Jesus is the Messiah and has the power to change their circumstances. Internally, though, she seemed to doubt that he could raise Lazarus from the dead, even when He explicitly says He would do so. (John 11:23-24)

When Jesus meets Mary, she shows a lot more emotions. She also accuses Jesus of negligence “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Seeing the grief and weeping of Mary and the people around her, Jesus was also troubled in his Spirit and expressed his emotions by weeping (with Mary). We don’t know if He was angry about the pain Mary & Martha were going through, about the unbelief of the people or about something else, but He did see their pain, allowed them to express it and took time to weep with those who were weeping and after that proceeded to raise Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:33-35)

From the eyes of Mary & Martha, what would have been the best thing to do? Go right away to Bethany and heal Lazarus before he died? Come after Lazarus’ death and tell them not to make such a scene as He’s planning to raise Him right away from the dead? Or take time to validate their emotions, grieve with them and then raise Lazarus from the dead?

The beauty is that, though raising Lazarus from the death did cause more pain, it also gave them more proof of Jesus’ real identity, built a greater faith and brought more joy in the end. Resurrecting a dead person was and is a greater miracle that healing a sick person. To witness the greater miracle, a greater measure of suffering and pain was to be endured by Lazarus and his family.

What do we expect?

For me this is quite personal as I believe God can and wants to heal us, but I still deal with chronic illness in my body. How do I want Jesus to deal with this? (Heal it completely ASAP is my gut answer!) And how do I respond to the way He is dealing with it? In many ways I respond the same way Mary & Martha did, complain to Him why He hasn’t done anything yet and at the same time profess his sovereignty over my life and circumstances. He has his reasons. I just don’t always like them.

Yes, I think it was worth it that Jesus waited a few more days till Lazarus had actually died. It doesn’t mean we should tell people in similar situations to just get over it. The pain they endure while waiting for a miracle, for healing, etc. is real and Jesus never brushes it away as unjustified or inappropriate. I am glad that Jesus didn’t just raise Lazarus from the dead but first validated the feelings of two desperate sisters by allowing them the opportunity to vent their emotions, letting his emotions flow freely and weeping with them.

It gives us the consolation that He knows and cares about the pain we’re going through and also sets an example for us to acknowledge and validate the pain and suffering of those around us. To pray and believe for miracles and weep with those who weep at the same time. (Romans 12:15)

Depending on where you and the other are on the Expression Dimension, weeping by and with a friend will be more or less constrained.

 

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
Used with permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Inspiration for this article came from the 2023 Easter sermon on Lazarus at Fellowship Dubai. (link

Published September 15, 2023 

© 2023 n-Culture. This text of article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.