There’s much about God I don’t understand.
Sometimes the Bible just doesn’t make sense to me. God’s ways are mysterious, which can be frustrating to a perfectionist who prefers straightforward answers, clear direction, nothing ambiguous. Life is easier that way.
However, in God’s mysterious way, the most incomprehensible and unsettling passages often contain the deepest truths. Like John 11. When I recently heard a pastor preach on the raising of Lazarus, I remembered how that very passage, irritating and infuriating as it was at the time, had transformed me years ago.
John 11:1-6 reads:
“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, 'Lord, he whom you love is ill.' But when Jesus heard it he said, 'This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.' Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was."
The passage made sense until verse 6. It seemed to me that if Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus, He would have gone when they needed Him. He would have rescued them. He would never have let Lazarus die.
I felt for Mary, Martha and Lazarus. When Jesus didn’t come, they must have felt devastated. They must have thought that their close relationship with Jesus would have meant something to Him. They must have assumed that He would come when they told Him that Lazarus lay dying.
He healed complete strangers; why wouldn’t He heal His friends?
But Jesus didn’t heal him. Jesus didn’t even show up.
I knew how His friends must have felt.
I was in the darkest period of my life and God had let me down. Though I had pleaded with God to deliver me, my circumstances were getting more twisted and painful each day. I had faithfully served Him and now that my life had fallen apart, God didn’t even seem to care.
It seemed that other people, young believers and even unbelievers, had their prayers answered more quickly than I did. Maybe God was using my life as some type of cosmic example, to bring about some greater good, even if it wasn’t good for me. I was trying to reconcile that in my mind.
At the same time, I understood that God had bigger purposes than my life alone. Lazarus’ illness was for the glory of God and His glory comes before all things. The raising of Lazarus brought God tremendous glory – it was the most loving thing to a world that desperately needed to understand who Jesus was. I knew that raising Lazarus was definitive proof that Jesus was no ordinary man. He indeed was the son of God.
But my question remained – how was Lazarus’ death loving to Lazarus and his family? The Bible says that it was. The Bible says that is precisely why Jesus didn’t go immediately. Because He loved THEM. Not just because He loved the world.
I wrestled with this paradoxical passage. I had this strange sense that if I could understand it, I could grasp something transformational about the character of God. I had long wondered why Jesus didn’t rescue me. I knew that He could. It was completely within His power. He would just need to speak the word and it would be done.
Jesus was treating me the way He treated His close friends. And it didn’t make sense.
What was God up to in their lives? How did this delay demonstrate His supreme love for them? Clearly having a pain-free life was not Jesus’ highest goal for Lazarus, or Mary or Martha. Or for me. Their pain must have been a catalyst their greater good.
As I read and reread the passage, I saw that through Lazarus’ death and resurrection, Mary and Martha witnessed the glory of God. It was unmistakable to them. And they were profoundly changed by it.
That’s the supreme goal. Seeing Jesus. Being changed by Him. Resting in His tender care and perfect plan.
Jesus said, “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.”
This belief comes not from a passive witnessing or an intellectual understanding. It only happens when God intersects our lives personally. Jesus talked with Martha, wept with Mary and then raised Lazarus. They each saw the glory of God, and were forever changed.
A short time later, we see Martha serving without complaint or comment, content to be where God had called her. And we see Mary so full of love and gratitude that she pours a staggeringly extravagant perfume over Jesus’s feet.
Jesus loved them enough to know that experiencing His glory firsthand would change everything. He loved them enough to let them suffer so they could know His comfort. He loved them enough to teach them that nothing is ever hopeless with Him.
Jesus plan was bigger than they could imagine. It was both for their good and His glory. They needed to trust Him.
As I considered my own life, I saw God was showing me His glory. His presence surrounded me as I sensed His nearness, His tenderness, His care. I saw the incredible ways God had provided for me and the ways my trial had deepened my faith.
And I knew that my story was not over.
There would be redemption one day. I sensed God whispering to me that His plan was bigger than I could imagine. It too was for my good and God’s glory. I just needed to trust Him.
Their story ends with a fantastic miracle that is greater than their wildest dreams. But it started with a preventable tragedy that must have left them bewildered.
And many of us feel bewildered today and are waiting, as the sisters did, in the period between Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ miracle. It may all look dark. It may not make sense. But one day it will.
One day we will understand the glorious “so” in our lives too. One day we will see with clarity why the denial of our deepest longings was the most loving answer of all.