C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed in the midst of grieving the loss of his wife. He reflects on why her death should be causing him not only to mourn, but also to doubt in substantial ways his own faith. In chapter 3, he reminds himself that he had always known that such sorrowful things occur daily in the world. Nothing unexpected or unusual occurred in the passing of his wife. Though this time the unfortunate event had happened to himself, and not someone else. Lewis writes that his faith would not be so shaken if his concern for other people's sorrows had been real concern. He goes on to say, “If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.”
I found this comment to be shockingly insightful, at least in regard to my own heart. How much do I actually care about the sorrows that go on in this world, especially when they extend beyond my immediate circle? When a child, whom I have never met, suffers through a rare illness, how much do I really care? When a young woman somewhere is kidnapped, raped and killed, am I yet showing “real” concern? When the world's headlines are filled with injustice and murder, how can I possibly react to it all with any level of sincerity?
I find in these scenarios that I simply cannot handle the vastness of the suffering and tragedy this world affords. The sheer magnitude of earthly problems alone overwhelms me. I understand that I cannot in and of myself solve the world's problems, but more than that, I cannot even mourn them properly. Many have perceived their own smallness when they look at the night sky, at stars that stretch deep into the blackness of space. I find new conviction of this smallness, and of its powerlessness, when I dwell on this world's sorrow. Like the seemingly innumerable stars of the night sky, so also the tears and wailing of this world stretch on further than I can comprehend.
But my problem extends beyond inability. The problem for me is not just that I can't properly mourn this world's suffering, it is also that I simply don't. Frightened by the clamor of the world's trouble, I shut the door to my heart rather than open it even a crack to the flood of tears that awaits outside. I fear that sort of grief, I fear its life consuming nature. I fear being kept awake at night as I pray first for those I know and then all the sorrowful things I know of as well. I fear that my small heart cannot bear such a load.
Jesus grieved. He grieved at his friend lying cold in the grave. Though Lazarus would soon be miraculously raised, Jesus wept. Jesus was grieved in Gethsemane, to the point of death the Scriptures add. In the face of his impending arrest, torture and execution, Jesus was deeply grieved. Is it too much to also say the Father grieved as well? In that great exchange of Jesus' righteousness for the wickedness of his people, would not the Father grieve the marring of his spotless Son? If Christ wept for sinful Lazarus, would not the Father have mourned the perfect one's death?
In these divine examples, I find inspiration. But inspiration without compliance will only result in further condemnation, won't it? It will only be one more time in which I sin and fall short of the glory of God. I need more. In my inability to pray and mourn for the world, I find profound new depth to Romans 8:26: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Perhaps the faithful ministry of that Comforter can convert even my halfhearted despair for the world into a fit intercession with the King. Perhaps presenting my fearful and closed off heart—my sinful heart—to Christ provides one more opportunity for him to declare, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”