Yesterday, we tried to swallow some difficult biblical pills when it comes to reconciling the existence of both a good God and a world filled with pain. Today, we look at Jesus’ response to the death of Lazarus in John 11. (Many thanks go out to my pastor Jonathan Haeffs who inspired this post. Listen to the podcast for his sermon here.
Jesus was close friends with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. When Lazarus got sick, the sisters sent word, fully expecting Jesus to heal their brother. (They didn’t necessarily think He’d come in person, since Jesus had done long distance healings in the past.)
But Jesus doesn’t do anything. On purpose. Because “…it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) (If you didn’t know the end of the story, Jesus doesn’t sound the least bit caring here.)
When Jesus finally does arrive on the scene, Lazarus has been dead and buried four days. Four days of mourning for their dead brother. Both sisters ask Jesus the same question when they first see Him – the very question people today cry out to God in the face of unspeakable tragedy and heartbreak – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Where were you, God? I called out and you were silent. Why didn’t you stop the gunman? Why did you allow that tsunami? Why?
We get to see God’s reaction to these questions in Jesus. He is not callous, distant or uninterested. He weeps. He is “deeply moved,” grieved by our pain and sorrow and even angered by the devastation wrought by the sin infecting our world. (John 11:33-38)
And He is still in control. Even when logic and natural law dictate otherwise. Jesus gets the last word, not death.
Lazarus walking out of the grave is a seminal moment in Jesus’ ministry, not only because it demonstrates Christ’s rule over death and the grave, but also shows us that God has a different perspective. Humanity is always limited, unable to see the future or change the past. Jesus’ perspective, however, is eternal. In God’s view, death is but a mark on the timeline of eternity, not the ultimate end of a person’s history.
It’s akin to the time I had to take my then 2-year-old son to the emergency room for stitches. The only thing that allowed my wife and I to hold my beloved child immobile on the table, watching his eyeballs roll around in abject terror, was our perspective on the situation. I was allowing (heck, paying) this doctor to hurt my child because it would bring healing and wholeness in the long run.
To be clear, the immediate aftermath of a tragedy is not the time to toss out platitudes like “all things work for good” or “God has a plan” as we often feel compelled to do (out of ignorance or discomfort) when staring into a weeping face. Even if you do have perspective, that probably isn’t the time to share it.
Once again, look at Jesus. He took the time to grieve with Mary and Martha. To listen to their hurts and be present in a moment that hurt. He didn’t dodge, short change or try to cover over the messiness of the situation. He waded into it and then brought healing words and perfect actions into their midst.
When the inexplicable like Katrina or Columbine occurs, we can’t even begin to find the proper perspective. But after sitting with the afflicted in comforting solidarity, we can look back to Jesus’ example at the tomb of Lazarus. He cares deeply. He feels our pain. He does have a purpose and a plan with an eye for eternity that we cannot begin to comprehend.
And from there, we can cling to hope.