So Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sake I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” -John 11:15
Sometimes as I read the Bible, Jesus seems a little harsh. His words often sound insensitive to my big feelings heart and I wonder what to make of that. I am working my way through the book of John very slowly this year and this morning I read chapter 11- the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Or another way to subtitle that chapter would be:
When Jesus was Glad to Let Lazarus Die
The first one is true and sounds more promising, but the second one is true also. We come to verse 15 and think What? Lord, why would you say such a thing? Surely you weren’t actually GLAD to let him die?
The one thing I have found to be consistently true and applicable to myself and everyone I have ever known about suffering is this:
We want it to stop.
We want relief.
And often Jesus does not give fast relief, because He knows through our suffering He will build steady belief.
Relief is focused on the temporary. Belief is focused on the eternal.
Relief is about escaping pain. Belief is about embracing growth.
Relief is a short lived break. Belief is a long term sustainer.
Like every good parent, God knows we often need to endure something hard and painful to grow into a person of character. We usually need suffering to quit being self reliant. And we are most likely to open our hearts up to healing and truth when we are most connected to our need for help. Romans 5:3-5 says it this way-
“We also rejoice in our suffering because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
In a very real and loving way, Jesus is often glad to build our character through perseverance in suffering because He knows the hope we will gain in Him will never let us down.
Have you ever been absolutely certain if you could just have __________, then you would be satisfied/happy/okay? You just knew it.
Then you get it: the job, the marriage, the clean bill of health, the car, the student loan, the weight loss, the grade, the baby, the maid, the church. And at first you feel so relieved. AAAHHHHH. But, then slowly………… it fades. And a new ____________ takes its’ place.
Finding hope or even relief in temporary things will never fully satisfy us. But fully placing our hope in a God we cannot see or touch is hard when so many temporary fixes are right around us isn’t it? It is for me! Which is why suffering is necessary. It slowly strips from me all those temporary, often good things, until I open my hands to the only thing that will quench my thirsty heart- Jesus.
And Jesus does not call us to suffer alone or without help. He suffered for us first so that we might know there is no hury He cannot heal and no darkness He cannot light. His death and resurrection give us hope in our suffering. And his people, well, we encourage one another to keep going when God says No or Not Yet. I think about what Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s sisters, must have felt as they asked Jesus to come and he did not. As they watched their brother die and Jesus was missing. We know they were confused, even as they held to their faith. They both confronted Jesus in their grief when he arrived four days later with a messy mix of faith and anger. “Where were you? You could have stopped this?” I wonder if the bit of faith they were holding onto came from reminding each other who they believed Jesus was.
Jesus got it. He was not harsh or angry with their confrontation. But he knew the relief of not having to endure their brothers death would pale to the belief after seeing death be overcome. And on the cross, he put aside the relief his body and emotion longed for, so three days later we could all believe as death was overcome once and for all.
Here is some encouragment from my friend sitting in Dallas next to her husband as he receives a very difficult and painful treatment for his terminal cancer this week. Let their hope in Christ, encourage you as it did me. This is the text I received from her:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”