It was a Monday. In particular, it was the Monday following the funeral of Anthony Mendoza, a longtime member of my church who had crossed over into the next life, leaving behind Evelyn, his wife of many years.
I stood in front of my classroom, introducing my second-year Spanish students to the lyrics of the song “He Tells Me that He Loves Me” by Mexican singer and songwriter Jesús Adrián Romero. In English translation, they read:
He tells me that he loves me when I listen to the rain.
He tells me that he loves me with a sunset.
He says it without words, with the waves of the sea.
He says it in the morning with my breathing.
He tells me that he loves me and that he wants to be with me.
He tells me that he looks for me when I go out for a stroll,
that he has made what exists to call my attention,
that he wants to captivate me and to gladden my heart.
He tells me that he loves me when I see the cross.
His hands outstretched, oh how great is his love.
They say it—the wounds of his hands and feet.
He tells me that he loves me again and again.
After working our way through the text, I invited the students to sing along with me. As we reached the final stanza, I suddenly saw the lyrics of the song interposed with the funeral service from the previous day.
During the service, our pastor expounded upon the account in John chapter 11 of Jesus coming to visit the grave of his friend Lazarus. In due time, Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead—but beforehand we see Jesus expressing his anger and grief at the broken state of our world.
I thought about this in relation to the way many of my students view the world. During a chapel service from the prior week, three members of our student body had shared moving testimonies of some difficult times, during which they struggled to know where God was in their pain.
Standing in front of my students on this Monday, I knew that our song spoke to the struggles they (and countless other Christians) face. If my life is going well, the students often reason, this is evidence that God loves me. If it is not, then God must not be real—because, if he were, he would fix the problems. He would heal my pain. He would show up and I would feel his presence to let me know that he cares for me and that I’m not alone.
As teachers, when we sense the Spirit speaking to us, we may need to stop what we’re doing and tell a story.
“Yesterday,” I told the students (in English), “I attended the funeral of a member of my church. And the pastor gave a message about Jesus lamenting the brokenness of the world and the passing of his friend Lazarus . . .” As I continued, I began to connect this with the song we had just sung.
In my Spanish classes, we frequently practice naming and expressing gratitude for things—from the grandiose to the everyday. If we have eyes to see the world truly, I tell the students, we will find it a place of wondrous delights that we can receive as gifts from a good and loving Father. I am convinced that he tells us that he loves us in things like sunsets, the sound of rain, the waves of the sea, and our very breath.
And yet, I told the students, this world is also broken. Martha and Mary knew it. Jesus knew it. Evelyn Mendoza knows it. And you know it.
However, this does not mean that God doesn’t exist—or that he doesn’t love us. It means that he expresses his love in another way.
He tells us that he loves us when we look upon the cross. We see the wounds of his hands and feet, pierced for us. In Scripture, Jesus says that no man took his life from him, but he gave it up willingly. When he allowed the soldiers to spread out his hands to nail them the cross, they positioned them outstretched in embrace of the world.
And his embrace enfolds us, too—in our pain and in our sorrow.
He says to us (whether we feel his presence or not), “I know. I am with you in your suffering. Many things in this world can hurt you, but because of my suffering nothing can ultimately harm you. Nothing now can separate you from my love.”
As teachers, I hope that we can communicate to our students that God’s love for them exists in dual modes.
May we invite our students to rejoice in the beauty and goodness of God’s world—in human cultural products such as language, literature, and the arts, in the order of numbers, in the wonder of natural phenomena ranging from mitochondria to mountains to the furthest of galaxies—and to see these creations as the outpouring of his abundant love for them.
May we give our students permission to lament in the face of brokenness—in sickness, racial injustice, poverty, political strife, war, and a host of other things that show that our world is not as it once was nor as it one day will be—and to see our Savior’s sacrifice to defeat sin, death, and evil as the outpouring of his abundant love for them.
May we tell the Grandest and Truest Story—which includes our own personal stories—of a God who speaks his love in both beauty and in brokenness. Because both are true.
 This understanding of Jesus being outraged and troubled by what he experiences is also found in Don Carson, “Lazarus,” The Gospel Coalition, accessed November 20, 2022, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/conference_media/lazarus/.
 John 10:18
 For more on the difference between hurt and harm, see Dallas Willard - Why the World Is a Perfectly Safe Place for You, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ih6aM2Isq8g.