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A cancer diagnosis took me completely by surprise 12 years ago. I was perfectly healthy and had no risk factors. I was processing my questions with a mature Christian friend when she said, “It’s almost a complement, don’t you think?” She was saying that God had allowed this trial and that he knew I would be faithful.
I wasn’t so sure.
Have you ever wondered what God is doing or where he is in a difficult situation? We are not the only ones who have struggled with God’s apparent absence. In fact, we are in good company. Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus were good friends, but Jesus wasn’t there when they needed him most.
When Jesus Didn’t Heal
Most of us remember the story of task-oriented Martha getting frustrated with Mary, who couldn’t tear herself away from Jesus’s teaching (Luke 10:38-42). Later they were at dinner with Jesus, and we see a similar portrayal of their personalities:
Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:2-3)
In between those two episodes, their brother Lazarus died.
Lazarus was desperately sick, and his sisters sent word to Jesus saying, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3). They knew that Jesus had healed countless people; surely they thought Jesus would heal their much loved brother. But Jesus was a surprising no-show.
Jesus didn’t heal him.
When Jesus didn’t arrive the first day, they might have been thinking he got held up somehow. The second day, they were probably puzzled—maybe even angry.
Martha’s first words upon seeing Jesus, after Lazarus had been dead four days, were “Lord…if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Mary said the same thing when she greeted Jesus.
Trust God’s Plan
We know what Mary and Martha didn’t know. Jesus knew exactly what he was going to do, and that “this sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory…” (John 11:4). He waited on purpose.
No doubt, Martha and Mary would’ve appreciated some communication to ease their minds, explain the delay, and reassure them Lazarus would be all right. But Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus rarely does that.
When I had cancer, it would’ve been nice if God had let me know what to expect—but he didn’t. Like everyone else I waited for test results and doctor’s appointments, endured treatment, prayed, and trusted. I knew God was with me—of that he had assured me—but that’s all I knew.
God’s plan is perfect, and he has no obligation to update us with the details. Therefore we trust him.
Focus on What You Know
When Martha said Lazarus would be alive if Jesus had been there, Jesus gave her no explanation but said, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha, knowing her theology, said she knew Lazarus would rise again at the last day. When Jesus responded with the familiar verse, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies…,” Martha proclaimed that Jesus was the “Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” She was sure of that.
Mary also greeted Jesus with the fact that he could have prevented Lazarus’ death, and then she wept at Jesus’ feet. Mary’s emotional response was just as stirring as Martha’s excellent theology, and Jesus was “deeply moved.” He wept (John 11:35).
These two women knew Jesus, loved him, and knew what he had taught them. Yet, God used their brother’s illness and death, knowing it would bring them devastating grief, to demonstrate Jesus’ power over death.
I don’t know if my cancer was in any way a compliment, but I believe that God allowed it for his purpose. I knew he was in it, that he had a plan, and that I was to trust him. I know he was enough.
For the Glory of God
“Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!'” (John 11:43). And he did. The buzz would have been deafening around Bethany: “Did you hear about Lazarus? He had been dead for four days and Jesus raised him!” God was glorified through this miracle.
Lazarus’ resurrection brought glory to God, but it was a shadow of what would soon happen. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus had been in the works since the before the beginning of time, and the day was coming when Jesus would glorify God on the cross.
God chose Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to play difficult parts in Lazarus’ God-glorifying resurrection. They grieved, they wondered, they might’ve even been angry, but they remained faithful. I’m sure this trial strengthened their faith for what was coming.
Similarly, God used my cancer for my growth and his glory. I trusted that he had a plan, focused on what I knew was true about him, and prayed. He did everything else.
Will You Trust Him?
Yes, the outcome could have been different. I’m very grateful I am cancer free to this day. This miracle gives me confidence that even when God doesn’t answer our prayers like we desire, Jesus will eventually raise us to glorious eternal life with him. Lazarus eventually died (again!) on this earth, as did Mary and Martha. Someday we will too. But Jesus raised Lazarus as a sign that he will one day raise us all.
This story teaches me that Jesus knows exactly what he is doing, even when we don’t know the details, and that our trials are meant to bring God glory. What about you? Will you trust him in your trials?