A Fallen, Broken World
John 11:29-37 As soon as she heard this, she got up quickly and went to Him. (30) Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still in the place where Martha had met Him. (31) The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw that Mary got up quickly and went out. So they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to cry there. (32) When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!" (33) When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was angry in His spirit and deeply moved. (34) "Where have you put him?" He asked. "Lord," they told Him, "come and see." (35) Jesus wept. (36) So the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" (37) But some of them said, "Couldn't He who opened the blind man's eyes also have kept this man from dying?"
John is following Jesus as He enters into Bethany, to the place of death and sorrow, through all the complex reactions of the people involved. It has many of the emotions of a person visiting a bombsite or a terrorist attack. There is anger and grief and crying and blaming. There is a sense that something awful has happened, that ought not have happened. In one sense it was “just a poor man dying of an illness” - all over the world the poor die early, simply because they are poor. People cannot afford medicine, or hospitalization, or treatment or even the bus fare to see the doctor. I remember the terrible shock when I went to Mindanao in the Philippines and heard of people being disconnected from dialysis because their family had run out of money. The family had sold everything they could, but it still was not enough. Coming from Australia, where medical treatment is free or close to it, this “death from poverty” enraged me, just as Lazarus’ death enraged Jesus.
The death of Lazarus is somehow representative of all other tragedies and is an iconic example of human suffering, grief and pain. Lazarus was loved, and yet he died, despite Mary and Martha and Jesus and all their friends. His death blew their worlds apart and they were still in intense mourning four days later. There was something wrong with the world for this to happen. He was not an old man, his sisters were apparently unmarried, therefore they were probably young women, so at a guess Lazarus would have been perhaps about the age of Jesus or even younger. This was the tragic early death of a young man that everyone clearly loved. He wasn’t supposed to die now. The death of Lazarus was a clear marker saying “there is something deeply wrong with a world in which something like this can happen.”
Twice Jesus is mentioned as being angry (John 11:33,38), but no angry words escaped His lips. Jesus was angry at the evil in the world. He was a prophet, and here was something clearly wrong, clearly out of place, and people were hurting. Jesus wept with the hurting people, but was angry at the situation. Just like the dialysis example above – one weeps with the family, and gets angry at the situation.
And the others were also angry – at Jesus, the one person who could have prevented it:
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!"
But some of them said, "Couldn't He who opened the blind man's eyes also have kept this man from dying?"
God gets the blame for such events; perhaps He is the only one we can blame. The L.A. Times just ran an article on a pastor whose four-year-old daughter was smothered to death by the “nanny”, who managed to escape charges for the infant’s death. The pastor resigned and lost much of his faith because; as he and his wife saw it, God was punishing them for doing well. (His faith is returning – albeit slowly.) Such examples can be multiplied without number. God is supposed to prevent evil and to recompense injustice. God is supposed to not let bad things happen.
However that is a major misrepresentation of how God acts. God plainly does allow bad things to happen but a) He weeps with us b) He enters into the situation and produces a “resurrection outcome” working all things together for good (Romans 8:28) including tragedy. The prototypes are Job and Jonah who had bad things happen to them – but there was a “resurrection outcome”. God takes us into the depths of pain, then out the other side, eventually. I have lived long enough to know that this is true in my own life and in the lives of many who love the Lord. God does NOT promise insulation from evil but He does promise the transformation of evil. God does not offer the comfortable life but He does offer the redeemed life.
If God’s own beloved Son was to suffer betrayal, an unjust trial, torture and crucifixion and shame then we are not exempt either. But God raised Jesus and God will raise us to glory.
Jesus wept at the tragedy. He is compassionate, His emotions and God’s emotions and He reaches deeply into the grief with His spirit – and weeps. Jesus knows He will raise Lazars, but He still weeps, and those around said: “See how He loved him”. It was a loving response to a sad situation.
The spirit of God knows human suffering deeply and weeps with our sorrow. There are times when I have sense Another with me in my pain, Another that was deeper than my pain and Who was weeping with me, and working in me to strengthen me and to comfort me. This Unnamed Other, who visits us in our pain is none other than God Himself.
To sum up:
Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.