We often think that if God loves us, He should spare us, or those we love, from suffering. And when He doesn’t, we wonder how that can be love. In John’s account of Lazarus’s death and resurrection, Jesus shows us how this can be.
We start by being bewildered at Jesus’ responses to Lazarus’s plight. First, after hearing of his friend’s illness, Jesus waited two days before going to see him. In fact, we are told that Jesus loved Lazarus, and therefore he delayed the visit for two days (John 11:5-6). Therefore? That’s a strange way to show love. Then, after Lazarus died, Jesus said, “I am glad that I was not there” (v.15). Jesus was glad that he let his beloved friend die? That’s a strange way to show love.
And here is where many people in pain misunderstand God and rail against what looks to them like God’s indifference to, or maybe sadistic enjoyment in, their anguish. Even those who knew Jesus best and loved him most his disciples Martha and Mary were confused and deeply disappointed at first.
So why did Jesus delay, and why was he glad? It wasn’t indifference to Lazarus’s agony or gladness over his death. No, these things actually moved him to tears (v.35). Jesus delayed and rejoiced because of what he knew God was going to do for Lazarus and everyone else who would ever believe in Jesus—through Lazarus’s suffering and death.
Martha and Mary were not wrong to long for their brother’s healing or to grieve when it didn’t come. Disease and death are evils. But what God planned to do through this terrible event was beyond anything they could imagine. Through Lazarus’s death, God would show His glory (v.40) and reveal His Son’s power over death (v.25). Furthermore, the events surrounding Lazarus’s death would actually hasten Jesus’ own death (vv. 46-53), purchasing eternal deliverance from death for Mary and Martha and Lazarus and all the rest of us!
In other words, by letting Lazarus die, Jesus loved Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and millions of others in the most profound way he could. It’s just that it didn’t look that way at first.
That’s how it is in our suffering, too. When we ask God to take away our agony, and He delays, we wonder how that can be love. With Lazarus, Jesus pulled pack the curtain to let us see. God withholds a joy we request only if He plans to give us, and many others, far greater joys.