Sometimes I think God decided to teach me about suffering. Then I realize I must require an extremely extensive course because I’m still learning. I wish suffering was easy. Easy to do. Easy to explain. In Loved As If, I use memories, vignettes, and letters to/conversations with God precisely because stories express the truth in a way that our hearts understand, just as we understand that it is fitting for the wicked queen to be punished after her many attempts to kill Snow White. Our hearts then inform our minds. (I used to think it worked the other way. In matters of faith, it’s usually heart first, then mind.)
Certainly our minds have a place in understanding suffering. Suffering must be reasonable. And it is, once we understand there’s so much more going on than we imagine. Recently, I’ve discovered Matt Chandler and The Village Church. From what I’ve read thus far, they’re not afraid to read the entire Bible and plumb the depths of God’s revelation. They are especially adept at plumbing the depths of suffering:
John 11:1-44 is an interesting passage to observe in relation to this truth. John recounts the death of Lazarus and the response of Jesus. I am always struck by the complex beauty of the first word of verse six, “so” or “therefore.” As verse five states, Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus and “so/therefore” He delayed. What was the result of this delay? Lazarus’ death. That sounds unloving on the surface. We think the text should read, “Jesus loved them, so He hurried to them,” but instead of hastening to help, He waited. Jesus delayed, and Lazarus died because He loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus. His delay does not disprove His love; instead, it demonstrates greater depths of it.
Even more startling are the words of Christ in verse 15. After confirming that Lazarus died, He stated, “I am glad I was not there.” The phrase “I am glad” is a translation of the Greek word χαίρω (chairo), which is elsewhere rendered rejoice, delight or take pleasure in. Christ is saying, “I rejoice that I was not there” or “I am pleased that I was not there.” Christ delighted in a delay that allowed a death and brought about such distress? He did this because He loved the one who died and those who wept?
A short and simple answer simply won’t cut it here. Jesus loved Mary, Martha, His disciples and Lazarus so much that He delayed, allowing Lazarus to die. He then rejoiced in the fact that He was not there to prevent it. Did Jesus then want Lazarus to die? In some sense, we have to say yes to take the text seriously. Jesus wanted Lazarus to die and Mary and Martha to experience great sorrow.