Last evening I was speaking with a dear friend of mine. She’s in the midst of a divorce and was sharing with me that she seems to cycle through a time every few weeks when she feels heavy and depressed. We talked a few minutes about grieving and how normal it is to feel that cyclical pull towards sadness. I was talking to her today and shared the story of Lazarus in John chapter 11. I read it for years, and while I thought I understood the teaching, I think now I comprehend it in a deeper and more authentic way. It’s the story of trusting God and being willing to be used in any way to bring him the ultimate glory. In order for this to occur, however, there can be significant pain for his followers. That was true with Lazarus’ death and those who mourned him and it’s true in our lives as well. We WILL feel pain and God allows that and, although I believe feels compassion for us, he knows that the outcome (his praise) is worth the pain we may suffer.
Look at some excerpts from John 11.
1Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."
4When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
7Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."
11After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."
12His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
17On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
23Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
Jesus could have stopped Lazarus from dying. He could have alleviated the tears of Mary and Martha and all the people of the village who were also mourning Lazarus’ death. There is no question that Jesus could have either come earlier or spoken a word from where he was and Lazarus wouldn’t have died. But Jesus chose to stay for a few more days. Sometimes we don’t understand the ways of God, and may never.
I’ve been thinking a lot the past couple of years about waiting on God. I believe one of the reasons God calls us to wait is for our own character and growth. When I was considering that however, I didn’t dwell on an aspect which is crucial...God knows we will often suffer during our waiting, but he is willing to let us suffer. I had to wrestle with that because it seemed contrary to a loving Father. My conclusion though is that God allows the pain because refining is painful. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t compassionate toward us in that pain.
Right now, my friend is hurting and more than likely she will experience emotional pain for some time yet. But, if she allows that sorrow to mold her heart, turning to the Healer, then the character that she gains will highlight God’s magnificence and will be worth whatever pain she experienced. I believe that is the story of Lazarus.