(Note: I shared this story in another post, but it fits here as well.)
I was driving through the rural countryside in southcentral Kentucky when I got the call from my brother. I was shocked when he told me the news that our first cousin had fallen off a roof while serving on a mission trip. Multiple broken bones. Minimal brain activity. His condition was critical.
Over the next few weeks, thousands of people prayed for my cousin, while he remained unconscious in the Intensive Care Unit at the University of Kentucky. We prayed for a miraculous recovery, but God had other plans. Nearly a month after his accident, my cousin’s earthly life came to an end.
His precious widow and the rest of our family were left with so many questions. Why did God allow this to happen to such a godly man? Why was he taken so early in life? Why did we have to go through this pain? For our family, life didn’t make sense during that time.
The details may change, but all of us face times in life when things don’t make sense. When the nurse tells you that she can’t find the heartbeat for your unborn baby. When your spouse tells you that they don’t love you anymore. When your supervisor tells you that you don’t have a job anymore. When the doctor tells you that it’s cancer. When the world faces a global pandemic. In times like these, life doesn’t make a lot of sense.
While we can’t always control our circumstances, we can control how we respond in those moments. From the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11, here are 4 ways you and I can respond whenever life doesn’t make sense.
#1: Recognize God’s Plan
Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha were close friends with Jesus. So, when Lazarus became ill, his sisters sent word to Jesus, expecting Him to drop everything He was doing to come and heal Lazarus. But Jesus intentionally delayed responding to the request. When his disciples questioned him about His delay, He revealed that it was all part of His plan.
In John 11:4, Jesus 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.” Later in the conversation, he provides some clarity to His plan in v. 11: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples are still confused, so Jesus finally tells them plainly in verses 14-15: “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Ultimately, there’s a reason for Lazarus’ illness and death. At the end of this story, Jesus raises Lazarus back to life and verse 45 says that “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.” That was the plan all along! Many Jews believed in Jesus because of this miracle. But, note that this would not have been possible unless Lazarus died.
Just as there was a plan and purpose for Lazarus’ death, God also has a plan and purpose for the trials that we go through (see James 1:2-4 and 1 Peter 1:6-7). But just as Lazarus and his sisters were not given advance knowledge of God’s plan, the same is usually true for us. Although all we may see is our pain, we must remember that God has a plan.
This pandemic has been challenging for everyone. I don’t have all the answers. But I recognize the One who does. God has a plan for this pandemic, even if we don’t know the details.
#2: Trust God’s Timing
When Jesus finally arrives, Lazarus has already been dead four days. And this simply doesn’t make sense to Mary and Martha. They both tell Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” These sisters knew that Jesus had the power to heal Lazarus. They knew if He had been there, He would have done so. Faith is not the issue for these two women; the issue was Jesus’ timing.
These sisters can’t understand why Jesus didn’t rush to heal Lazarus. After all, Jesus loved Lazarus (John 11:3) and his sisters (John 11:5), and they reminded Him of that fact when they sent for Him. They expected Him to drop everything and rush to Bethany.
I’m guessing that if you received news that a loved one had been in an accident and was fighting for their life, you would rush to their side. That’s how Mary and Martha expected Jesus to react, and it was simply unfathomable that He would not come and heal their brother. But He doesn’t. And now these two sisters are mourning the loss of their brother, all because Jesus didn’t come when they asked Him to do so.
Right after college, I worked in a difficult environment. Without going into details, let’s just say that I had no plans of staying there any longer than necessary. I applied for multiple jobs, with the expectation that I would find something else quickly. However, it took three years before God opened the door for me to leave that employer. As I look back now, although those were difficult days, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. My faith in the Lord grew exponentially during those three years. I also met and married my wife during that time as well.
I discovered the same lesson that Mary and Martha learned. God is never late. He’s also never early. He’s always right on time.
When your life doesn’t make sense, you need to trust that God’s timing is perfect. For all of us, this pandemic will pass at the exact time that the Lord is ready for it to pass. Trust His timing!
#3: Understand God’s Sorrow
When Jesus saw Mary and the others weeping, the Bible says that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33) Just two verses later, John tells us that Jesus wept.
But why does He weep? Theologians have speculated as to His reasons for hundreds of years. Given the context, I don’t think He weeps for Lazarus. Think about it, Jesus knows what He’s there to do. He knows that He’s going to raise Lazarus back to life in 5 minutes, so it doesn’t make sense that He would weep for Lazarus.
I think a better explanation is that Jesus weeps for the way sin has devastated His creation. Jesus weeps because the only thing created in the image of God has fallen into sin and rebellion. And the result of sin is death. And the result of death is mourning, weeping, and pain for those left behind. So, in that moment when sin’s effects on humanity are on full display, Jesus weeps.
Whenever life doesn’t make sense, this scene should be a source of great comfort for followers of Jesus. Because He can identify with our sorrow. In fact, the Bible describes Him as a “man of sorrows.” In Isaiah 53:3-4, we read, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”
Jesus was known as a man of sorrows, because He suffered in our place. He took the punishment that you and I deserved so that we could have eternal life. We don’t serve a God who does not know what suffering feels like. We serve Him who knows exactly how we feel during difficult times.
God does not enjoy seeing us go through painful experiences. As a child, I had to get allergy shots each week. And my mother knew I wasn’t a fan of needles. Even though I begged her not to take me to get that first shot, she knew it was in my best interest. She didn’t enjoy seeing her baby boy suffer, but she knew it was necessary. And the same is true for the Lord.
Whenever life doesn’t make sense, understand that God does not enjoy those times any more than you do. But He knows that they are necessary for your sanctification.
#4: Witness God’s Power
As He talks with Martha, Jesus declares that He is the resurrection and the life. That’s a powerful statement, because it comes from a powerful God. And then, we see that power on display as He goes to the tomb and commands Lazarus to come out. Amazingly, the dead man walks out and everyone is astonished.
The Bible describes God as “almighty” for a reason. He has power over everything, and He has a knack for showing His power in different ways. Sometimes He raises a man from the dead. Sometimes He repairs a broken marriage. Sometimes He revitalizes a dying church. Sometimes He provides a new job. Sometimes He takes away the cancer. All the time He deserves our praise and thanksgiving.
God has the power to make life make sense, even during those times when it doesn’t. I’m confident that whatever you’re going through, God will be right there with you.
So, recognize His plan. Trust His timing. Understand His sorrow. And witness His power. And although you may still not have all of life’s answers, you’ll know enough to endure life’s challenges.