There are so many ways in which the story of Lazarus feels familiar.
- A personal crisis emerges, which - unknown to us - God lovingly intends to use for his glory and our greatest good.
- We, like Mary & Martha, ask God for help; but he delays and our problems grow worse.
- Finally, God arrives and invites us to trust him; but we, like Martha, have real trouble.
- Sometimes we're like Mary - too angry or disappointed with God to even open up at first.
- God keeps calling us to himself, like Jesus does with Mary, until finally we respond honestly and ventilate our frustration and pain to him.
- He enters into our suffering and weeps with us.
- Some take comfort in his empathetic presence. Others blame him for not intervening.
- In his time, he meets our deepest needs in unimaginable ways.
- The result is glory for God and amazing new life for us and others... two sides of the same coin. In hindsight, we hope to never go through that sort of thing again, but wouldn't trade what we've gained for the ease of avoiding it.
I've lived through this process a few times already. And while it gets easier every time as my faith grows, it never really makes sense until it's reached its conclusion in glory.
I think that's a big problem for us today. Too often we judge God's activity prematurely, before the story is over. We pause in the middle of our darkest hour (or that of a loved one) and decide that He must be untrustworthy instead of waiting to see what he does in our present circumstance while trusting his impeccable resume throughout the millenia.
I find comfort in knowing that Jesus himself went through the anquish of this kind of "middle chapter". In Matthew 26, he prays in desperation, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." The stress of his approaching separation from the Father during his torture and crucifixion was overwhelming to the point of sweating blood. Simply put, he didn't want to do it. And yet, because he trusted the Father's judgment, he did it anyway. The result, for Jesus, was overwhelming glory and joy (John 12:23; 15:11; 16:20). A glory and joy he would've never known but that he obediently suffered the dark middle chapter of the cross.
Hebrews 12:2... "Jesus [is] the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Jesus suffered obediently, waiting on God. The result was glory for both the Father and the Son. God's glory and man's good. Just as Scripture promises in Romans 8:28, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
So when we suffer and seek God and he seems nowhere to be found, it's not that God is careless or neglectful or silent or slow, but that he loves us too much to sacrifice our biggest blessing simply to save us from the pain of our temporary suffering. Healing Lazarus would've saved Mary and Martha from the pain of experiencing their brother's death. And yet, without Lazarus' death, there could've been no resurrection. Martha and Mary could not have known Christ as the imminent, ever-present life-giver. Countless witnesses would not have believed in Christ and experienced spiritual rebirth.
God traded away the lesser good to gain the greater. Can we not expect him to lovingly do the same with us?