Tuesday, March 19, 2013


My friend and colleague lost his wife last week.  A broken ankle killed her at the youthful age of forty, leaving behind my friend and their young daughter.  How horrible it must be for him to wake up in the middle of the night thinking it had all been a nightmare, only to find himself alone.  Unless one has experienced such loss, one cannot possibly know the devastation my friend is suffering.  I've been told by others who have lost relatives, the grief doesn't really set in until after about six weeks  because the griever believes his or her loved one will come back.  When he or she doesn't return, the real terror and anguish hits like a freight train.  I shudder at the thought of what lies ahead for my friend.

What does one say to all of this? If God is good--in fact, the definition of goodness--why does He allow such misery to go on?

When Martha and Mary's brother, Lazarus, had been dead and buried four days, Jesus arrived too late to save Lazarus.  Each of the sisters in their despair asked Jesus why He had let them down, why He had so uncharacteristically allowed Lazarus to die.  They in effect asked God directly the same question we are now asking Him from afar: Why if you are Good do you allow this suffering to go on?

How did He answer this deep, emotion charged, and to many, pivotal query?  How did Jesus respond to the $64000 question whose answer holds the questioner's very soul in the balance?  Don't kid yourself; many have abandoned their creator--at least so they claim--because they cannot get past God's apparent callousness towards the suffering in the world.  I admit my faith is shaken every time I turn on the news and learn of the latest senseless slaughter the news service seems so anxious to report.

Reading the account of Lazarus the frustration in the voices of both Martha and Mary are thinly veiled.  Martha appears to temper her own audacity by quickly defaulting to Jesus' faithfulness--despite appearances--and Jesus rewards her faith with insight into the answer He has for all of us.  Mary is less careful, and lets her emotions rule her.

Did Jesus honor Martha for her stronger faith more than Mary, who gave into her despair? No.  Did Jesus rebuke the women for the audacity of questioning Him about why He does or doesn't do anything? No.  Think about that for a minute.  God is not threatened by our humanness.  God doesn't want us to only say to Him what we suppose He wants to hear. God doesn't want us to become Spocks.  There is no virtue in Stoicism.  Real healing and satisfying answers can only come through honest emotions, honestly expressed.  The worst thing we can do to ourselves and to each other is to demand we pull up our boots straps and suck it up because if you don't you aren't trusting God.

God is seeking a genuine relationship with us; such a relationship must be based on truth instead of pretense and smoke and mirrors.  He wants us to ask Him the big questions of life, such as why He lets the suffering go on.  Do we really want to hear the answer?

When Jesus surveyed the wailing, crying, mourning, and despair--not only in Martha and Mary--but in all those gathered with the sisters, Jesus wept.  Why?  Was He regretting He had decided to come late, after all?  No.  Was He upset because He didn't know the answer? No.  Jesus cried because the death and misery are not the way the world is supposed to be; it isn't the right order God intended.  Jesus lamented at the horrific consequence of human rebellion, which is Death.  Even though He would have been perfectly right to do so, Jesus didn't get up on a box and scream at everyone, "Why are you crying over spilled milk!?  You're getting just what you deserve!"  No, Jesus wept.

You see, God isn't like us; God loves with a holy love, which means a love that seeks to restore, not a self-seeking love--which is really hate--that wants to get even, or to win an argument, or to posture.

So how did Jesus answer Martha's question, Mary's question, our question?  Why if God is good does He allow misery to go on?  Read God's answer:

Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell, because he has been buried four days.” Jesus responded,“Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you have listened to me. I knew that you always listen to me, but I said this for the sake of the crowd standing around here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The one who had died came out, his feet and hands tied up with strips of cloth, and a cloth wrapped around his face. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.” [NET]

So lament for my friend, dear reader; wail at the bloodshed rampant in the world; grieve at the horrors wrought by hate.  But hold in your heart the hope of eternal life.  For God, because of His unfathomable love for all of us, has overcome death for us.  Good News! Jesus died into Death on our behalf, and God raised Him to eternal life.  Death no longer has power over us--despite appearances--because of the faithfulness of Jesus.  Because Jesus lives, we also can live through Him--even though we may die.

God's answer to our hard and honest question is "I am life!  Come to me, seek me, and love me by obeying me, and I will make sure you will succeed and live.  Because Jesus lives, you can live, and live life to the fullest, forever and ever."