Jesus was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) who wept over Jerusalem and at the tomb of Lazarus (Luke 19:41; John 11:35). Yet we worship the “blessed God,” the eternally and supremely happy God (1 Timothy 1:11; 6:15). He has anointed Jesus with “the oil of gladness above [His] companions” (Hebrews 1:9). Other passages speak of God’s grief over sin and the judgment it entails while insisting with greater frequency that God rejoices over His people. What do these things mean?
God’s emotional life is not one-dimensional. We must not imagine that His happiness goes up and down like a thermometer. Yesterday He was happy; today He is sad or angry; tomorrow—who knows? He is unalterably, unchangeably happy within Himself, but because He created a world outside Himself and then entered it to feel our pain and to bear our sins, He has chosen to make sorrow a permanent part of His experience. It is permanent because God’s knowledge is infinite and unchangeable. Though, in a figurative sense, He forgets our sins when He forgives them, in the most literal sense, He can never forget anything—especially not the sorrows of His Son. (By the way, we do not cause God to suffer. We cannot do anything to affect God; He afflicts Himself with our pains.)
God’s grief is, in some sense, limited because it is not an essential part of His nature. God’s joy, however, is unlimited because it its first of all in Himself and only secondarily in His creatures. His limited grief is swallowed up in His infinite joy.
As the tears of the sky wash over the land and into the ocean, making it salty, so the tears of Jesus have washed down into the infinite ocean of God’s joy. His tears, however, are not so dispersed as to be indiscernible. Rather, they impart a certain flavoring to that ocean, a salty tang that God’s joy could not acquire in any other way.
I was born near the ocean, and when I breathe in its salty fragrance, something deep within me cries out, “Home!” I think that will be the spontaneous response of my heart when I breathe in the tear-salted, joyful air of the celestial city—“Home! Home at last!”