So, you’ve done it, graduates! You’ve completed what could possibly be one of the most challenging and important seasons of your life. You are about to enter a new environment and a set of new opportunities. It will be exciting but it will also bring great challenges. During this season...
As I embarked on my two-and-a-half hour drive to undergo another treatment for Lyme disease, I was struck by the rare silence around me. There were no little children calling my name, no fights to break up, no one asking for something to eat, and no screaming or crying to deal with. It was just me. The Lord and me.
Suddenly, a wave of emotion came over me as the weight that I have been carrying settled upon me. Struggling to make sense of what was going on inside of me, I sat with the silence, before quieting my racing mind with a podcast on John 11:1-6: the story of Lazarus.
I’ve gone to this story several times over the years because of the comfort and wisdom I have found in it. Lately, however, as life has intensified, and as I’ve struggled to see Christ’s love and goodness in it, the words struck me afresh.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
When I first read these verses I thought, that doesn’t seem like love to me, at least not how I would show love. Yet, these verses are crucial to understanding how God often works in the lives of his beloved children.
Christ Loves Us by Glorifying Himself through the Silence
God doesn’t love us by always giving us what we think we need, or by promising to take away our current pain and heartache. He loves us by allowing what he must so that we will be ultimately satisfied in him and bring him glory through it.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Jesus loved them so deeply, he chose to delay. Why? Because he knew that God would be most glorified by bringing life out of death. Many things can bring healing to the sick, but nothing but the power of God can give life to that which is already dead.
What strikes me the most is that Jesus knew that his delay would cause pain to those he loved. Yet, compelled by eternal love, he restrained himself from bringing his friends immediate comfort for the purpose of revealing his glory to them. That is a love beyond any human love. In fact, it wouldn’t seem like love at all to those who have never tasted a glimpse of God’s glory.
As this truth sank deeper into my soul, I was flooded with thankfulness. Yes, I long for relief and healing for my son and my family, but I am increasingly longing for more of Christ and his glory through our lives. That would have never happened if Christ had healed my son nine years ago when I first began to pray for answers. He has loved me enough to delay. And he has loved me enough to allow the death of so much in me (my strength, comfort, desire for success, self-confidence) in order to bring me greater life in him.
We need to constantly remind ourselves of the love Christ has for us when he acts contrary to how we think he would or should. Though I may not understand why he has allowed so much pain in my life, he has given me promise after promise of his love and has shown me through the death and resurrection of Lazarus that it will often look different than I expect it to.
It’s tempting to use our circumstances as a measuring stick of God’s love, but instead we must remember the love that he showed for us through his own death and resurrection. Though Jesus could have rescued himself from undeserved suffering and a painful death, he willingly died to glorify his Father, so that he might give resurrection-life to the dead—sinners like you and me.
Because of that hope, no matter what circumstances we may face along the way, all who belong to Christ are secure in God’s perfect love. However, until the day when all our tears are wiped away, the Lord will sometimes work in ways we may not understand for the purpose of causing us to love him and desire his glory above all else in this world—even comfort, success, praise, money, family, and life itself.
Christ Loves Us by Working in the Silence
Mary and Martha not only suffered as they watched their brother die, but they must have struggled to understand why Christ remained absent after their plea for help. They believed that Jesus had the power to heal, and they knew that he loved them. How confusing it must have been when Jesus chose to delay.
Do you ever feel that way? Do you believe Jesus has the power to change your situation, but wonder why he has chosen not to? Have you prayed for answers and for assurance of his presence, while feeling nothing but silence? I certainly have. In fact, the times that I have struggled to see or feel Christ’s presence have been the hardest to endure. However, as we see in the story of Lazarus, though Christ seemed absent, he was still very present and at work in their lives. And he upheld their faith through it all.
Richard Sibbes wrote,
As his Father was never nearer him in strength to support him than when he was furthest off in sense of favour to comfort him, so Christ is never nearer us in power to uphold us than when he seems most to hide his presence from us. The influence of the Son of righteousness pierces deeper than his light.
In other words, just as Christ needed the strength of his Father most as he endured the cross, Christ is never nearer to us in power than when we least feel his presence. Though we may not see or feel him, if we are his child, he will uphold us in faith and empower us to press on, no matter the circumstances we face. Though we may not always see him, his presence pierces deeper than what our eyes can see and our hearts may feel.
Christ Loves Us through the Silence
You and I may not understand what God is doing in our trials and pain, and we may not even feel the presence of Christ, but he is there and he is working. As the Holy Spirit upholds our faith (as weak as it may feel) in the darkest times, he will be glorified as we wait on him. And as we see greater glimpses of his glory, our faith muscles begin to grow. Jesus promised the sisters that Lazarus’ illness would not lead to death, but would instead be for the glory of God, so that the Son of God would be glorified through it.
There are times when God chooses to protect us from immediate harm as he did for the Israelites at the Red Sea, or to heal our diseases, as he did for the blind man and the leper, or dramatically answer our prayers as he did for the believers who prayed for Peter’s release from prison. However, there are also times when he allows us to experience pain and loss, allows our illnesses to continue, or delays until all hope is gone, as he did with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Although we don’t have a guarantee of the outcome of our circumstances, believers can trust that God will be glorified as we trust his love for us. The divine wisdom that allowed Lazarus to die, and then brought him back from the dead, points us to a far greater glory through the death and resurrection of Christ, who came to save sinners that we might have everlasting joy.
May that motivate us to pray continuously, stand firm, and press on, even when it seems as if Christ is silent in our greatest time of need.