BY CHAD BIRD
There were pictures of her bathed in the sun of South Padre, sand between her toes, arm-in-arm with beautiful friends. Pictures of her holding up a margarita, toasting the unseen photographer. Pictures of her beside her new Honda, graduating with honors. Random shots of her at forgotten Christmases and family vacations. In every one she was all smiles. She seemed to radiate happiness.
But on the day when a picture would finally have spoken the truth, no one dreamed of lifting a camera. On that day the mourners were shocked to discover that behind the veneer of her bright smile lurked a fathomless darkness, whose depths she made manifest only when she despaired of life in this world.
Her name is Cindy. And her name is Audrey. And Liz. And Susan. And countless others. Hers is a story told with heartbreaking frequency. Her snapshots are images of an actor on the world's stage. She plays the part expected of her by the audience. She conforms to social norms. She smiles her way through pain, to despair, into the grave.
Her pictures are not worth a thousand words. They tell a thousand lies.
I was little different from her during the time in my life when suicide began to sing to me its siren song. I painted on the obligatory smile. Locked up the grief when others were around. No one must know that I too was a frail human being crippled by weakness.
By then I had years of practice in the fool's art of keeping up appearances.
St. John wrote that he who says he has no sin deceives himself. But that lie is only one of many self deceptions we perfect. We say we have no struggle with despair, while inside is a yawning, cavernous darkness. A husband says his marriage is just fine, while his wife, at her wits end, has scheduled a meeting with a divorce lawyer. A pastor pours a little more liquor into his glass week after week, all the while telling himself he’ll cut back when things improve at the church.
And I'm willing to wager that you have told your own set of lies to the person in the mirror.
If you could possess just one snapshot of Jesus, what would it be? For me it wouldn't be Mary's swaddled baby boy, or the walking-on-water Christ, or even the Lord nailed to the tree. It would be when he was told his friend Lazarus was dead. And ''Jesus wept.''
Jesus wept. Two simple words, the significance of which heaven and earth are too small to contain. Here is God, shedding tears over the death of a beloved friend. No Stoic divinity with a heart of flint. No shrugging at the harsh realities of life. No actor faking composure for the evangelist's camera. The Creator cries.
That picture would be worth a thousand words, for it would proclaim a thousand truths.
We need to know that God cried. We need to know that he felt pain and loneliness and heartache. We have a God who has been tempted, betrayed, hated, forgotten, rejected, stabbed in the back, and spit in the face. He's been through hell on earth, quite literally. He doesn't just know intellectually what people suffer; he knows existentially. And he has scars to prove it.
But there's more, and it's even better. He not only sympathizes. He revitalizes. He makes us alive again. When Lazarus lay entombed, there was a time to tear up, and a time to tear down the powers of life's foe. Jesus stood before the grave and commanded, ”Lazarus, come forth!'”
Shrouded in the raiment of a corpse, but with a heart pumping life through his veins again, out stepped God's friend. One of my teachers liked to remark that the reason Jesus mentioned Lazarus by name was that if he had issued a blanket announcement in the graveyard, every tomb would have coughed up its dead, alive again!
But Jesus resurrects by name. He calls Lazarus and Cindy and Audrey and Liz and Susan. And you. He calls you by name. He calls you out of the graves of grief and guilt. He bids you weep and wail, kick and scream, whatever it takes to purge the poison from your heart with unbridled honesty. And he will listen, without ever once interrupting, even if you have to tell him a thousand times.
Into you, as into the first human being, he will breathe his own breath. The breath that blows the very life of God into you. And where God is, there is hope and healing. There is a recreative power that makes all things new for you--you who are not only his friend, but his beloved child.
Chad is an author and speaker who's devoted to honest Christianity that addresses the raw realities of life with the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. Chad has served as a pastor and assistant professor of OT theology, contributed hymns to the Lutheran Service Book, and cohosts the podcast “Forty Minutes in the OT.” He holds Master's degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. In addition to writing the books, Christ Alone and The Infant Priest, he has contributed articles to Modern Reformation, The Federalist, Concordia Pulpit Resources, and other journals. His new book with Eerdmans, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul, is now available for pre-order at Amazon. His writings and other resources can be found at his website, chadbird.com. Chad and his wife, Stacy, enjoy life together in the Texas Hill Country.