The question is as old as the human experience of suffering: Where’s God in all this? Where’s God in this pandemic? Where’s God in the midst of our confusion, uncertainty, fear, and grief? Our faith is tested at times like these.
Behind these questions often lies the assumption that, if God loves us, everything should go our way. Petty annoyances, sure, we may have them. But no major problems. God “owes” us a great life. Or at least one without much in the way of problems and pain.
We wade into waters that soon rise over our heads when we delve into these questions, assumptions, and problems. Still, though we cannot address them all, we can gain some clarity. For instance, can people see the inconsistency of excluding God from their lives and yet expecting God to provide all they need and want? If God is loving, then, above all, shouldn’t we enter into that loving relationship? And if we are suffering, shouldn’t we look around for other considerations instead of blaming God?
But let’s focus more specifically on what we learn about God’s presence in our suffering from Jesus’ resurrection. I once again turn to the story of Lazarus for insight.
Jesus Waited: The Call to Holy Anticipation
If I asked how you really feel about God, and you were candid, you might say, “God has let me down.” That’s the way many felt when Jesus didn’t come immediately to aid Lazarus.
When Jesus received word of Lazarus’ illness, his response makes us wonder. “So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days (John 11:5-6 NLT). Jesus loved Lazarus, but his actions seemed to show undo casualness.
Why did he wait? Jesus said, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this” (John 11:4 NLT).
How could illness reveal the glory of God?
The word “glory” in John means the visible manifestation of the invisible God through mighty acts of power. We read the same words in John 9:3, concerning the blind man. God’s action in his suffering revealed God’s glory in his healing.
A careful study of the passage leads us to believe Lazarus had already died before the messengers even reached Jesus. Jewish tradition taught that the soul lingered near the body until the third day. So, by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was dead, really dead!
Jesus made a promise they would see God’s glory. They couldn’t imagine how.
Based on Jesus’ promise, I’m learning to ask this question in dark times: “Lord, what are you going to do with this mess?” I cultivate holy anticipation, consecrated curiosity.
Jesus Wept: The Assurance of Holy Empathy
While many Scriptures testify to God’s compassion for us (Exodus 3:7-8; Isaiah 49:15), the ultimate expression of God’s compassion is the incarnation. Jesus entered fully into human experience. He wept at Lazarus’ tomb.
Bottom line: God cares. The ultimate evidence is the cross.
Because I’ve already touched on this in my previous blog Easter Changes How We View Death I’ll move on.
Jesus Worked: The Revelation of God’s Power and Glory
The third message is one of hope in the way God’s unexpected power overcomes death.
In his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Bishop N. T. Wright explained,
“The early Christians did not invent the empty tomb and the ‘meetings’ or ‘sightings’ of the risen Jesus in order to explain a faith they already had. They developed that faith because of the occurrence, and convergence, of these two phenomena. Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion-experience would have generated such ideas; nobody would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they pored over the scriptures.”
Though Mary and Martha thought Jesus had let them down, they soon saw him work a miracle greater than they could have ever asked or imagined.
God is bigger than any problem we have! The ultimate enemy has been disarmed! If death doesn’t stop God, then truly nothing is impossible for God.
What looks like tragedy to us may bring a revelation of God’s glory we could have never known any other way.
Instead of saying, “God has disappointed me,” or “God has let me down,” we can learn to say, “I am not sure what God is doing yet… but I trust the Lord!” or “I don’t understand what God is doing yet…. but I trust the Lord.”
Where’s God in all this?
Where’s God? God is warning the world. These situations, while not caused by God, remind us of our vulnerability. They remind us of our need for God, for God’s direction, instruction, and support. They call us to repent of ingratitude, nonchalance, neglect, and presumption.
Where’s God? God is working in his people. God’s humbling us. God’s comforting us, fortifying, and strengthening us. God’s providing for us.
Where’s God? God is working through his people. God’s people are often on the front lines of caring and compassion in times of crisis.
Where is God? Right here! Working, weeping and walking with us.