According to Scripture, we are never to think of God as a cold, unfeeling Father. Our God feels deeply! He is touchable. His heart can be moved upon. In fact, He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities (see Hebrews 4:15).
God not only feels pain, but grieves as well. You remember that Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb. Here is a picture of God in flesh weeping! It shows us that the Lord feels with us and weeps with us. After all, Jesus said, "...he that hath seen me hath seen the Father..." (John 14:9).
We catch another clear glimpse of God's pain in the Garden of Gethsemane. Just hours before the guards came to deliver Jesus to the high priest, He wept so profusely and so feelingly that blood was mixed with His tears. God was in pain over the sins of humankind!
Have you ever wondered why Jesus wept in the garden — why He had such pain in His heart? It wasn't because of the pain He would face on the Cross. No, Jesus wasn't longing to reject the cup.
Rather, I believe Jesus was looking down all the years of humankind to the Second Coming. And as He looked through those years, He saw the unthinkable. He saw multitudes of people rejecting His free offer of full, complete salvation. And He saw the pain and suffering they faced as a result of their rejecting Him.
Jesus didn't wail, "I'm about to shed My blood and go through such pain — but you're going to reject Me. I'll get even with you on the Judgment Day. You'll have a payday coming!"
No! Jesus was weeping over the multiplied millions yet to come — those who would know of His free offer of salvation, favor, blessing, unction, anointing — and yet would not avail themselves of any of it. Christ was weeping that so many were going to be lost, despite having a remedy so available to them.
This is the pain of God! It's the pain that humankind brings upon itself. Jesus didn't just carry our sins to the Cross. He also carried the pain of the whole world!
Here in New York City, we meet people everywhere who are nervous, depressed. We meet drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless people who sit outside the doors of our church. All these people have the gospel freely preached to them — and yet many reject it!
In the garden, Jesus was picturing in His God-eyes the great masses of humanity and all their pain. And in that moment, it all was heaped upon Him — your pain, my pain, the pain of every person who rejects Him at any time.
Yet I also believe Jesus had sorrow of heart for another reason. He knew that people were going to mock Him, ridicule Him, make Him the song of drunkards. And He was pained because of the justice that would have to be meted out to all who denied His sacrifice!
When Christ said to His disciples, "...could ye not watch with me one hour?" (Matthew 26:40), I believe it was out of pain. He wasn't rebuking them. Rather, He was pained because He knew their flesh was weak. And He knew what their weakness would bring down upon them.
In the very next verse, Jesus says, "...the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (verse 41). In His all-knowing eyes, Jesus foresaw the disciples forsaking Him and fleeing. He foresaw their emptiness and pain after rejecting Him, and their return to their former lives as fishermen.
He knew that the events to follow would bring Peter to a denial of Him. Jesus saw this once-bold disciple running to the hills, crying, "How could I have denied Jesus? How could I have done such a horrible thing?"
So, when Jesus said to these men, "Could you not watch with Me?", He wasn't saying, "I need a pal during My trying times." No — He was God! He didn't need someone to stand by Him and encourage Him.
Rather, Jesus was in pain for His disciples. He was saying, in essence, "If you don't watch with Me, you won't be prepared. You won't be able to handle what's coming!" He knew the apostasy that would spring up in their hearts because they were too lazy to gird themselves up. And the thought of their consequent suffering brought great pain to His heart.
Don't think for a moment that Jesus did not grieve over Judas. Nothing in His heart could simply dismiss that man, saying, "Oh, devil, go do your work." Rather, I believe Jesus wept inside as Judas walked out of the Upper Room to betray Him.
Christ's all-knowing eyes foresaw that disciple casting thirty pieces of silver to the ground, crying, "I've betrayed the living God!" And surely Jesus felt Judas' grief as that tormented man went out to hang himself.
I want to share with you something the Lord recently revealed to my heart:
Every time we sin against God, His justice demands that He chasten His children. Yet this is God's most painful work — to bring judgment upon those who break His laws!
"For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye" (Ezekiel 18:32).
God says, "Do you think I receive pleasure when people die — even wicked people? Never! I get no pleasure from the downfall of any sinner."
Jesus took no pleasure in Judas' death. He didn't gloat, saying, "See what happens to traitors!" Nor does the Lord receive any pleasure from the death or destruction of drug pushers, abortion doctors, even murderers. He is not happy when anyone dies in sin.
Yet how different we are from the Lord in this matter! We clasp our hands and say, "Thank You, Lord — You dealt with that evil." We feel none of God's pain when a sinner falls!
You may ask, "But doesn't God say in Proverbs 1:26, 'I also will laugh at your calamity'?"
No! The context of this passage begins in verse 20. It reads, "Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets ...saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity?..." (verses 20-22). Wisdom is still speaking in verse 26, which reads, "I also will laugh at your calamity...."
It is wisdom — not God — that mocks the sinner. This passage is addressing those who cast aside all wisdom and mock its counsel. You see, there's a law involved — a fixed principle of God — that we call wisdom. If you cross the street when the light is red and are hit by a car, the wisdom present in that streetlight mocks your calamity.
God could never laugh at the calamity of even the most wicked person. He cannot mock those who are being destroyed by their sins. On the contrary, He tells us He receives no pleasure from the death of any sinner.
Yet His wisdom cries out to everyone. It is crying out right now on the streets just outside Times Square Church. Those who should be hearing the voice of God — who instead are mocking that wisdom — will be mocked by wisdom on Judgment Day. At that time, wisdom will cry out, "How foolish you've been!" "Then they shall call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me" (verse 28).
Yet this same chapter in Proverbs also offers hope. It reveals God's heart in the final verse:
"But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil" (verse 33).
"And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (Luke 19:41-44).
Who is weeping here? It's Jesus — God in flesh!
He wasn't standing on some soapbox, pointing His finger and shouting, "One day an army will come and kill your wives and children!"
No — Jesus was weeping as He prophesied. He was looking forty years ahead, to the time when Titus's army would invade Jerusalem, rape the city and destroy the temple. It would be a holocaust beyond all holocausts. And as Jesus foresaw this happening, He wept over the city.
The inhabitants of Jerusalem shortly were going to reject Him — spit on Him, mock Him, rail against Him, curse His name, crucify Him. Yet here He was, weeping in pain over them — because God's justice demanded judgment! Justice was going to bring a heathen army into their streets — and men, women and children were going to be slain without mercy.
Yet I believe Jesus also was weeping over what Jerusalem could have experienced: a visitation of God. They could have had blessings, forgiveness, a new heart. But they rejected it all! The next verse tells us why Jesus' pain was so great:
"And he went into the temple, and began to cast them out that sold therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves" (verses 45-46).
Jesus went into the temple with a whip and drove out all the money changers. Why this serious scourging? He did it because He knew these were the very sins that were hastening the coming judgment!
Jesus was feeling the pain of that horrible future scene. He was hearing all the cries of the women who would have a knife stuck into their bellies. He was hearing all the screams of the children who would be trampled underfoot by Titus's army. And He was grieving as He saw stone after stone being pulled down from the temple.
Jesus foresaw all of this and said, "Don't you money changers understand? What you're doing here is bringing down God's judgment!" God was in pain over His chosen people — because their sin was going to destroy them!
There had to be tears in Jesus' eyes as He snapped that whip. I don't believe a single stroke touched anyone in that temple. Instead, it struck tables and carts, snapping in the wind. He used the whip as a rod of love. It was His way of saying, "Wake up! You're forcing God to bring down on you what pains Him most!"
Let me show you another glimpse of God's pain:
"And the Lord said unto Moses...thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: ...they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrified thereunto....I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them... And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.... And the Lord repented [changed His mind] of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (Exodus 32:7-14).
In reading this passage, many Christians mistakenly attribute more grace and mercy to Moses than to God. They think, "Moses is pleading for great mercy upon Israel, while God is ready to destroy them."
Nothing could be further from the truth! There was only one reason Moses could pray as he did here: It was because He knew God's heart of mercy!
You see, God was speaking here out of His justice — and justice demanded that the people be consumed. But Moses knew it would pain God too much to destroy His children. He knew God loved these people. So he pled, "Lord, I know that Your justice is crying out, and You have to proclaim it. These stiffnecked people should be wiped out.
"But I know something else too, Lord. It's that You wouldn't be able to stand the pain if You did it! You may destroy 10,000 or 12,000 — but the more You destroy, the more pain You'll have. I know Your heart, God — and I know You can't destroy Israel, because You love her!"
The Bible says God "repented" — which means, He changed His mind about how He would judge Israel. He wasn't going to destroy them. Instead, the people would waste away in the wilderness. Yet God never removed His mercy from them. Although the people would continue to pain His heart for thirty-eight more years with their unbelief, the Lord would still protect them, lead them, feed them and clothe them to their dying day.
I wonder how many times the Lord saw Job and longed to say, "Enough! I can't let My servant undergo any more of this horrible pain. I've got to stop it!"
If you think Job suffered, you have to know how much God suffered with him. I imagine God saying, "Just make it through, Job, and I'll give back all you lost. Just hold steady, and I'll increase you one-and-a-half times." Finally, when Job's suffering was over, God said, "I'm going to double everything for you, Job. I'll give you twice as much as you had before!"
We see God's pain also when He had to mete out justice upon David for numbering Israel. God had commanded David not to number the people, so he would never be tempted to rely on the arm of the flesh.
Yet David did just what the Lord had forbidden. And it pained God's heart:
"And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel" (1 Chronicles 21:7).
God had to judge David. The king had prided himself on having an abundance of mighty fighting men. So the Lord sent an angel to mete out His justice by slaying Israel by pestilence. Soon the proud people were dying like flies.
David listened as messengers brought him awful reports — 10,000 dead in Hebron; 5,000 dead in Benjamin; 6,000 dead in Judah. The death toll just kept rising.
Before long, 70,000 Israelites were dead. The death angel had gone up and down the land, slaying people left and right. And now he was standing over Jerusalem, with his sword drawn, ready to strike. The remainder of David's mighty fighting men were on the brink of total destruction!
God was striking at the very heart of David's pride. He was trying to save this man — to rescue him from the enemy of his soul. And, Scripture tells us:
"...Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces" (verse 16).
When David heard about all the deaths in Israel, he fell on his knees in repentance. He wailed, "Oh God, it's my fault! These people are guiltless. Please, Lord, spare them. Put Your judgment on me!"
God couldn't stand to feel David's pain any longer. Finally, He cried to the angel: "Enough! Put away your sword. The pain is too much for Me!"
"And the Lord commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof" (verse 27).
It was as if God were saying, "If I allow justice to continue, I won't be able to stand David's awful pain. He'll die of a broken heart!"
Here is an incredible picture of God's heart of pain. David had grieved Him, and God's justice demanded chastening. But God didn't stand over David, gloating, "Have you learned your lesson yet?" No — David's tears had reached God's tender heart! The Lord was feeling David's pain, touched by the feeling of his infirmity. And He said, "Enough!"
The first part of God's terrible "double pain" is when we sin in His presence, against His light and love.
Yet it isn't just the sin itself that grieves God. It's that He knows the consequences of our sin will soon follow. God knows the price we're going to pay: Our sin is going to drive us to grief and misery! And that pains His heart greatly.
The second part of God's "double pain" is that our sin causes Him to keep His Word in judging us. He has to stand by like a loving Father and listen to our cries of anguish as He chastens us — all for the purpose of producing godly character in us.
Not long ago, I came to a crisis — to the end of my rope. I had been hearing slanderous things said about me and about an associate pastor who ministers with us at Times Square Church. It was awful, hurtful gossip. I couldn't believe people were saying some of the things they did. It all hurt me so badly.
After this had gone on for some time, I began to remind God of His Word:
After some time, I cried out in despair: "Oh God, how long will You let this go on? The lies keep changing so much, I don't even know what they are from day to day. I can't fight it. You're my defender, Lord — and You say You will avenge Your people. But I don't see Your justice being meted out. Please, Lord — how much more must I take before You'll move?"
As I thought of all the slander coming against me, I began to think of other beleaguered pastors and servants. There are so many saints today — holy, righteous people — who are having to endure awful trials because evil words are being spoken against them by coworkers, family, even friends.
"Why, Lord?" I prayed. "Where are Your righteous judgments? Why do You continue allowing Your people to be hurt? Why do You wait so long to bring about justice?"
The Lord answered, "David, I am merciful, longsuffering and slow to anger because it pains Me to mete out My justice. If you could feel My pain, you would never, ever, desire to see My judgment fall. You would understand why I wait so long to bring it down!"
Then God showed me a frightful picture of the judgments He must send on those who sin against His Word. Indeed, awful things will befall those who continue in their sin of gossip and slander.
Yet the thought of divine retribution — of judgment falling on anyone — overwhelmed me. I cried out, "Oh, Lord, don't judge for my sake! Please, don't do this, even to those who have hurt me. Don't do it to justify me!"
I was feeling God's pain — His reluctance to judge! And that pain continued in my heart for perhaps fifteen minutes.
Then the Lord spoke to me: "David, you know how painful it is to discipline your children, because you love them. It's the same for Me. It pains Me to mete out My judgment and chastening on those I love!"
I can remember vividly four or five instances of very heavy chastening from the Lord. In those times I would say, "Oh, God, this is painful! I don't ever want to go through anything like this again."
And now God was saying to me, "David, I didn't want to go through it again, either. It pained Me to stand by and allow you to hurt. I did it all unwillingly. I took no pleasure in it. It was a grief to My heart. And yet it had to be done — because I love you!"
God has shown me the hard way that I am never to rejoice over anyone's chastening. Yet may the Lord have mercy on those Christians who rejoice in the chastening of another:
"Rejoice not when thy enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth" (Proverbs 24:17).
Not only must you never be glad when you see God meting out His judgments. You also must feel God's pain as He metes it out! You simply cannot rejoice in the presence of a Master who weeps while He whips, before a Christ who's heartbroken.
God's judgments on others ought to break your heart. It ought to make you cry out, "Oh God, enough! Please — have Your angel put up his sword."
"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Hebrews 12:11).
God is talking about His own heart here, as well as ours. His chastenings are not joyous to Him, but grievous and painful!
Yet when God moves in to judge, He hovers over His children as He chastens them. As He brings one lash after another, He waits to see if the last lash brought a tear. He looks for even the slightest sign of sorrow or repentance. And He lets up at the first inkling of one! He longs to say, "Enough — no more! It pains Me too much."
Beloved, you must come to grips with this matter of God's pain. You have to chasten yourself — to bring your thoughts into captivity, and say, "Oh, Lord, let me pray for my enemies — for those who are trying to hurt me!"
God loves the most wicked, vile sinner on the street. And if He loves that person, how much more does He love the Christian who hurts you and has made himself your enemy?
Perhaps you have an idea by now of how far we are from the heart of God. We have so much yet to learn of His heart. No, He does not delight in judgment. He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, nor in His chastening of His children. On the contrary, it pains Him awfully.
Let me tell you what the Lord delights in:
"Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion on us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:18-19).
Thank God for His great compassion, available to all. He delights in mercy.