I am on a team headed to Haiti to serve, equip, and deploy Haitian pastors so they can rebuild and minister to the people in their churches and communities.
One of the main points I want to communicate to them is found in Exodus 3:7-8. While the context of the passage is about oppression and not natural disaster, God’s response is the same: He sees, hears, knows, and acts. God sympathizes with the groans of his people and gets involved with their suffering. He already sees, hears, and knows their suffering and is facing it in its fullness even before they cried out. Now he is inviting them to face it with him, not alone.
Many of the psalms reveal the compassionate disposition of God toward those who suffer: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Suffering does not repel God. Instead it draws God near. God promises never to cut himself off from those who cry to him in distress (Psalm 9:9, 12).
God’s solidarity with and compassion for those who suffer is the motivation for his response of grief. Grief is not negative. People may claim that grief is usually negative and not something God does. But God knows their suffering. He sees, responds, and invites them to participate in the sorrow and grief he has for their situation. Those suffering are not encouraged to be silent or deny, but to feel and express their emotions, to cry or weep, to grieve the destruction they have experienced.
Jesus Has Compassion
Hebrew 2:17 links Jesus’ suffering to his disposition toward us: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.” Commenting on this passage, John Calvin explains Christ’s desire to sympathize with us as we suffer:
And it is the true teaching of faith when we in our case find the reason why the Son of God undertook our infirmities. For all knowledge without feeling the need of this benefit is cold and lifeless. But he teaches us that Christ was made subject to human affections, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest…For in a priest, whose office it is to appease God’s wrath, to help the miserable, to raise up the fallen, to relieve the oppressed, mercy is especially required, and it is what experience produces in us. For it is a rare thing for those who are always happy to sympathize with the sorrows of others…The Son of God had no need of experience that He might know the emotions of mercy. But we could not be persuaded that He is merciful and ready to help us had He not become acquainted by experience with our miseries. But this, as other things, has been as a favor given to us. Therefore whenever any evils pass over us, let it ever occur to us, that nothing happens to us but what the Son of God has Himself experienced in order that He might sympathize with us; nor let us doubt but that He is at present with us as though He suffered with us…An acquaintance with our sorrows and miseries so inclines Christ to compassion, that He is constant in imploring God’s aid for us. (Commentary on Hebrews)