Every day it seems both of my boys are taking more and more strides towards independence. Sometimes this is a great thing. Like when it comes to taking showers, brushing teeth and putting away clothes. Other times, it’s heartbreaking. Like when it comes to nighttime snuggles and kissing cuts and scrapes.
And then there are times when, as old as they seem, they revert back to their younger selves. Like every time they have to go down to the basement. All appearances of self-sufficiency disappear. A couple of weeks ago there was a toy that had been left down there, and one of my boys asked me to go down and get it. “Sorry,” I said, explaining I was in the middle of something myself. “Not right now. But you can do it.” There was pure terror in his eyes. It was like I was asking him to descend into hell itself.
But I noticed, in the back and forth negotiating with him about going down into the underworld of our house, he didn’t want me to get the abandoned toy for him. He wanted me to go with him.
For a little boy, having someone present while tackling your biggest fears of the dark is all you need.
Which makes sense. There’s something to be said for feeling like, whatever giant you’re facing, you aren’t facing it alone. Presence matters. Companionship matters. And knowing when you’ve lost your footing and lying on your literal or metaphorical back in the deepest ditch you’ve ever known, that someone’s willing to step down, dirty their knees, and pull up next to you? Well, that’s not just a childhood longing. That’s a human longing. And when it happens, it’s a spiritual experience.
In A Life of Jesus, Japanese author Shusaku Endo suggests that the Japanese culture is responsive to a religion centered around one who “suffers with us”. Most of his book is a look at how Jesus did just that.
Prior to Jesus’ arrival, Endo writes that, “People in suffering, people in sickness, people in tears could not consider themselves except as being estranged from God, while the other people beholding them could sense nothing underlying their sad plight except the wrath and punishment of God.”
But then Jesus starts suggesting things like,
“‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.’
Jesus realized that his own life-work lay in solving this problem.”
In other words, Jesus came on the scene at a time when people assumed hard circumstances was the result of God abandoning them. That their challenges existed because of God’s inattention. That their plight was more than simply overlooked by God, it was disregarded. That if God wasn’t working for them in their difficult lives, it meant He wasn’t interested in them.
And so Jesus arrived intent to reverse the curse. To show those poor in spirit, those mourning, they weren’t overlooked, but seen. To redeem their opinion of who God was, by demonstrating who He’s always been, and always promised to be. Attentive. Loving. Present. Jesus enters in the hurt, because “permanent life fixer” was never in His job description. But “God with us” was.
Yes, Jesus performed miracles. But it may be that was simply a way to get the people’s attention. And maybe it was the conversations with those He drew close to that revealed His heart.
And that’s what Endo notes in his book. That while the pages of the gospels are full of the laws of nature being bent and broken—as lame people walk, deaf people hear and blind people see—the most real—as in, tangible—feeling “miracles” aren’t the ones where the crowds are astonished by death retreating and illnesses cowering. The stories that draw us in are the ones where Jesus’s divinity bumps against hurting humanity, and He decides to stay awhile.
In the conversation with a written off Samaritan woman.
In the shared dinner with Zacchaeus, the lonely and greedy tax collector.
In the confronting of the religious leaders ready to kill a woman caught in adultery, and then His tender treatment of her once they shied away.
Sometimes, we want a fixer and need a miracle. Sometimes a situation feels too overwhelming, too complicated, too impossible to navigate that we don’t think we care about anything else, except someone sweeping in and saving the day.
Sometimes that seems like enough. But it’s not.
Because if that is all we got, we might very well find ourselves in the same position of those in 1st century Judea who had trouble believing in a God who loved them and hadn’t written them off because their circumstances seemed to say otherwise. Because their life felt like a mess. At the end of the day, after all, a fixer, who does what I ask for, doesn’t necessarily tell me I’m loved. A fixer tells me I am, and my life is, a problem to be solved.
Jesus knew healing the physical infirmities of people wasn’t the actual point. And saving people from their sins wasn’t the only point. The point was having a willingness to suffer with us in the things that may or may not ultimately be fixed. To enter in our pain. To stay close in our hurt. To feel compassion—the word the gospels use the most to describe the emotional life of Jesus. The point was presence. Because while not everyone needs a miracle, everyone does need to know they aren’t alone. We need a God with us.
Which is why I’m thankful for a God who does more than fix. Who is interested in more than just doing something for me, but who is desperate for me to know, He’s with me. A God who gets in life’s ditches with us, dirties His knees, pulls up close and keeps us company. Who was so intent that we understood the nature of the One who made us, He suffered a crucifixion—alone—so we might never have to fear that same aloneness ourselves.
He suffers with.
In sickness and hurt.
In fear and uncertainty.
In dark nights and scary basements.
He is the God who came close. And the Savior who stayed close. And that’s good news. To needy little boys, but also adults who have worked to manage their neediness a little bit more, but still need Jesus just as much.