[H]umans and their world do matter to God. Why that should be, the Psalmist could no more fathom than Elihu. He asked in comparable amazement, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”
The answer to Elihu’s query, the astounding mystery of our relationship to the Divine, had actually been revealed in the very question a baffled Job had posed earlier. “What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?” The astonishing revelation here is that God does set His heart upon us. And in so doing, God chooses to love us. And if love means responsibility, sacrifice, vulnerability, then God’s decision to love us is the most stupendously sublime moment in the history of time. He chooses to love even at, necessarily at, the price of vulnerability.
It is God’s response to the manifold creatures by whom He is surrounded, the movement of His heart and will in the direction of those other beings—us—that becomes the defining moment in His Godliness, and establishes the pattern of His divine activity. His freely made choice to inaugurate and sustain costly loving relationships is the very core of His divine identity.
The most remarkable religious document published in the nineteenth century may well be an ascension narrative in which the prophet Enoch is taken into heaven and records his ensuing vision. He sees Satan’s dominion over the earth, and God’s unanticipated response to a world veiled in darkness: “The God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and He wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep?”
The question here is not about the reasons behind God’s tears. Enoch does not ask, why do you weep, but rather, how are your tears even possible, “seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?” Clearly, Enoch, who believed God to be “merciful and kind forever,” did not expect such a being could be moved to the point of distress by the sins of His children. And so a third time he asks, “how is it thou canst weep?”
The answer, it turns out, is that God is not exempt from emotional pain. Exempt? On the contrary, God’s pain is as infinite as His love. He weeps because He feels compassion. As the Lord explains to Enoch, “unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood . . . and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”
It is not their wickedness, but their “misery,” not their disobedience, but their “suffering,” that elicits the God of Heaven’s tears. Not until Gethsemane and Golgotha does the scriptural record reveal so unflinchingly the costly investment of God’s love in His people, the price at which He placed His heart upon them. There could be nothing in this universe, or in any possible universe, more perfectly good, absolutely beautiful, worthy of adoration, and deserving of emulation, than this God of love and kindness and vulnerability. That is why a gesture of belief in His direction, a decision to acknowledge His virtues as the paramount qualities of a divided universe, is a response to the best in us, the best and noblest of which the human soul is capable.