On Suffering

John 11:3-7
Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.

Jesus loved Lazarus, and He let him die of his sickness. Jesus loved Mary and Martha, and He still let them endure the pain of losing their brother. He knew, even before they sent to Him, that Lazarus was sick, yet He did not go immediately to them, and He did not heal Lazarus from afar. So here is Jesus, knowing a painful and tragic thing is going to happen to people He loves, and He does not intervene. Here is Jesus who could have prevented the suffering of Lazarus’ sickness and death and the grief to follow, and He chose not to do so.

And we look at that from our human point of view and our limited scope of vision, and we might wonder how Jesus could allow those He loved to suffer. We might, in our fleshly humanity, question whether Jesus really did love them if He would do such a thing. But that’s just it. We are shortsighted and we are limited, and too often we are only concerned about ourselves and our comfort and we don’t see the bigger purposes that Jesus sees. Because He tells His disciples exactly what the purpose was for Lazarus’ sickness—to bring glory to God and to bring a glory to Christ that could not come any other way.

And I wonder what Mary and Martha’s experience would have been like if they knew that ahead of time. If Jesus had had a meeting at Lazarus’ house and laid out the sickness and the death but told them it was all for God’s glory, for His glory on this earth, would they have willingly embraced and accepted that? Would Lazarus have said, “Lord, I’ll be glad to get sick and die if it brings You glory”? Would Mary and Martha have said, “Lord, take our brother’s life if it means You can be glorified through it”?

I don’t know. That’s such a hard thing about life here, that in most cases we don’t see that until after the fact, if at all. After the pain, after the suffering, after the heartbreak, after the difficulty, then we see how God is glorified in that situation. But we don’t want trouble in our lives. We don’t want hard things. We don’t like pain and sickness and loss. But at the same time, don’t we want Jesus to be glorified?

In this particular case, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, an amazing display of His power, the antecedent to His own resurrection, and kind of an emphatic statement about His position as God. This was a very specific event with a very specific purpose that happened during Jesus’ short time on earth. And we learn the lessons of that. Jesus was glorified. Many believed on Him because of this. The faith of His disciples was strengthened. The sorrow of Mary and Martha turned to joy. That all really happened on one special day all those years ago.

So maybe it’s easier to see God’s purposes more clearly there, but what about our own situations? What about when it’s more personal and hits a bit closer to home? What about when it’s not something we read about, but something that’s happening to us? What about when the pain is real and we don’t understand and God seems so far away? What then? God meant Lazarus’ situation for His glory, but is the same true for our situation? Does He mean to use it for His glory even if it’s uncomfortable or painful or even unbearable? And does He still love us in the midst of that? Can we give Him glory in the midst of that?

These are the hard questions of life. The things we endure here sometimes seem so beyond us. Sometimes we never know why things happen, but maybe having a different perspective can help even just a little. We can know for sure that Jesus loves us no matter what He allows us to endure. We can know that God always acts with purpose even if we don’t understand. We can know that God being glorified is a worthy result of our trials here. And we can know that Jesus is with us in whatever He allows in our lives. He does not change with our circumstances, He does not cease to be God, He does not forfeit control, and He does not go against His character and who He is.

Perhaps the one event in history that gave the most glory to God was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to get there, Jesus had to endure the most excruciating thing that someone could ever go through. So He’s not asking us to do anything He hasn’t done Himself. It is often the most painful things that bring the most glory to God. And we don’t enjoy that or embrace it, but are we willing to accept it, to trust Him in it, and to seek His glory through it?

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