I don’t usually invoke the comparison, because its weight is extreme and its depth is beyond my ken, but it is known that among the qualities of Christ himself this one is listed: “…A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”
The infinite joy which must accompany infinite wisdom or enlightenment, and the infinite gratification at hand through infinite power, together somehow fail to provide God on Earth with the merry outlook of a Chesterton or a fool. Our Lord is not a knower of suffering, a comprehender or expert observer, knowing its qualities and results with a scientific precision which we sufferers can only envy; He is familiar with it. It is among his family.
Isaiah stands in Heavenly inspiration before the corrupt King of Israel and announces the maker of the universe not as a man of might, insight, purity, or accomplishment, but “a man of sorrows.”
…He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him
Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him
Like one from whom men hide their faces
He was condemned, and we esteemed him not…
But He was crushed for our iniquities
He was pierced for our transgressions
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him
And by his wounds we are healed.
My memory carries these lines, perhaps in error, but certainly in adoration. Somewhere in Isaiah 53 the Lord drew closer to me than I ever dared draw close to Him. God may as well have betrayed a fondness for horseradish or for Black Sabbath’s early work or for Mongolian beef with green onions, shared with my own loves, as so described Himself through his prophet in the distant millennia. In walking the Earth as a man of sorrows, he has offered every man of sorrows a kinship at which every man of laughter should weep with envy. He has extended a comfort our way, in the form of His inestimable wisdom’s confirmation of our own emotional conclusion: that to love is to hurt. He only adds the insight which entirely upends the impulse of our sufferings: If to love is to hurt, then inevitably to hurt for love is the only means by which a man can give his beloved its due.
No man properly loves America who does not lament its decline. Aurelius could not be said to love Rome until Aurelius could properly be said to despise Rome, that is, the Rome he saw before him as a betrayal of the Rome that was or might have been. Nobody can truly adore Jefferson except his creator, who saw the moment at which that genius could have extinguished not only aristocracy but slavery at a single blow…and saw the moment slip away. Nobody who rejoices over an Earthly thing as it is really loves it; the true lover of life can be recognized by his tears.
I once said to myself that to love a thing is only to really see it; that we do not love trees because we do not comprehend trees, and that the love of a botanist for a tree is the closest we have come to the rightful adoration a man owes the miracle of growth and strength we see in every sycamore and sapling. I meant that the vistas of learning available to every specialized study, no matter how specialized, were sufficiently enormous to fully justify a lifetime of study and interest; yet we non-specialists casually dismissed such matters with a refusal to fully investigate the infinite depth of mystery available in every grain of sand. And every one of these hidden, yet vast, fields of learning fully justified the total absorption which we would see in an academic who had made it his life’s work. I still believe this sentiment.
Loss, mortality, disappointment, failure. The griefs of Man echo the griefs of God. The virtuous powers of a man (though not their sinful imitations) to grieve are also his powers to emulate the way that God loves us, and loves all the world. God loves humanity the way a parent loves a profligate child who is in and out of rehab, opportunities lost, gifts squandered, only to re-emerge and then once again be crushed and then once again sincerely hoped for. The hopelessness and hope of that situation, at each repetition seeming new yet once again seeming the same and doomed to the same outcome…How could God yet love us? With sorrow, that is how. He yet once again puts his faith in us. He yet once again puts His broken heart back together, while a greater intellect than we can even conceive considers our history of faithlessness. He accepts us back again through a hedge of rationality that makes you or i look like nothing but an id. And you and i have a rationality, and a sadness sufficient to crush a million others.
If sorrow is a major quality of Christ, then to grieve is to act virtuously, for virtue means nothing else but the practice of the qualities of God.