Have you ever wanted to know the heart of God? I mean to really, truly know it – deep down where it counts, in the hidden depths of your sizable soul? To know what He thinks, what He feels, what He experiences every day of His life?
I have. And the answer came from the unlikeliest of places.
For the longest time, the picture of Jesus that dominated my thoughts was that of a happy-go-lucky, spirited young man sprinting through the countryside with a smile on His face and a spring in His step. A man beaming with blazing optimism, brimming with boundless joy. A guy on top of the world. Because, after all, He created the world. He owned it. So of course, He lived to enjoy it.
But try as I might, I could not find that Jesus in the New Testament. Nor, for that matter, did He appear in the Old.
In his place, I discovered a very troubled Jesus. Someone who bore the weight of the world on His sagging shoulders. Someone who every day encountered everyday people – people just like you and just like me. People whose challenges seemed overwhelming. People whose difficulties were difficult even for the Son of God to understand.
The deeper I dug into the Scriptures, the more this alternate picture of a melancholy Jesus began to emerge. The Jesus about whom it was written, “He was hated and rejected; his life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering” (Isaiah 53:3 CEV).
That didn’t sound very happy-go-lucky to me.
“He suffered and endured great pain for us” (Isaiah 53:4 CEV). An intense, unrelenting suffering that He carried not only during His trials and crucifixion, but throughout His life and His ministry as well.
For instance, did you know that Jesus apparently lost His adoptive dad, Joseph, at a relatively young age, and was therefore raised by His single mom, Mary? While this desperate situation doesn’t get a lot of press, we do get a glimpse into Jesus’ household when He stopped dying on the cross just long enough to assign to John the care of His beloved mom. Add to that that Jesus’ brothers all rejected Him. His enemies hounded Him. Even His disciples deserted Him. None of which makes for a spirited young man to my way of thinking.
“He was wounded and crushed because of our sins” (Isaiah 53:5 CEV). Wounded and crushed don’t sound like the attributes of someone sprinting through the countryside to me.
How about a smile on His face with a spring in His step? I don’t think so. Not when I read, “He was painfully abused, but he did not complain. He was silent like a lamb being led to the butcher” (Isaiah 53:7 CEV).
“Who could have imagined what would happen to him?” Isaiah asked, as a thoroughly appropriate, if unsettling, question.
Who could have imagined the unimaginable? Who would have anticipated the unthinkable? Who should have expected the unexplainable?
There is a reason we read in the Gospels that “Jesus wept.” Yet, nowhere do we read that Jesus laughed. Think about that for a minute. A smile on His face? A spring in His step? Guess again.
This theme, the seeds of which are planted in the Old Testament, comes into full bloom in the New, with such confessions such as this: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”
Yes, Jesus admitted that in Matthew 26.
Rather than beam with blazing optimism, Jesus daily discovered the depths of despair that darkened the souls of the people He loved. And this all-pervading sadness clouded His countenance with heart-rending compassion and never-ending concern.
There is a reason that Isaiah made a point to highlight the raw reality that Jesus’ “life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering.”
Gaze into His eyes and I think we’d see much more dejection than delight.
All of which means this: Our worst times might be our best times to know, to experience, to feel the heart of God.
Yes, it’s true. There are some lessons, perhaps our most profound lessons, that can only be learned in the classroom of personal pain.
Our darkest days might indeed be our brightest opportunities…
…to truly know, to genuinely experience, to actually feel the heart of God.