Just a few years ago my family and I experienced one of the most traumatic things a family can face – the threat of imminent death. This week’s blog is based on a sermon I delivered shortly after first being told my wife had a glioblastoma brain tumor, and according to her doctors she was going to die within a matter of months.
I’m reasonably certain that …
- Come April 15th of each year, unless it falls on a Sunday, “Uncle Sam” will want any money I may owe him without delay, and if he owes me anything then I won’t see a check until at least July or August.
- My DirecTv will go out at least once during a Carolina basketball game due to heavy rain and cloud cover. I need to clarify this statement now that Teresa and I live in South Carolina. When we use the term “Carolina” we mean the Carolina Tar Heels.
- And when someone approaches me and asks, “Can you lend me a few dollars?” they actually mean, “Can I have a few dollars?”
I’m truly certain that …
- God is real because I've experienced His work first hand.
- The Bible is trustworthy and true concerning all facets of life.
- Eternity exists – heaven for those who trust Christ as Savior and hell for those who reject Him.
- And in order to get to heaven you first have to die.
These last four “certainties” were many of my thoughts during the first week following Teresa’s surgery and diagnosis. I spent hours thinking about our life together not just from a past perspective but also our present and future life together. My days were consumed with obtaining vast amounts of information concerning brain tumors, cancer, and of course prayer and the Word of God. Every day as I reflected upon the Scriptures and especially those connected to God’s promises, my hope grew that He would somehow intervene in our lives. I kept coming back to certain inescapable facts: “God is real, God is true, God is gracious and merciful, He loves me, He loves my wife, He does nothing without a purpose, and He has the final say in ALL THINGS.” As I reread the story of Lazarus from John 11 three things were driven home for me during those days.
First, God’s love never prevents us from experiencing the difficulties and pain of everyday life (John 11:3-7). We live in a cruel and unforgiving world because of the corruption or curse of sin (Romans 8:18-25). All of creation waits with immense hope of Christ’s return and the establishment of His Kingdom; freedom will truly ring on that day when the curse of bondage we’re now under is lifted.
In regards to Lazarus and his sisters there is no doubt in my mind Christ Jesus loved them all deeply. Note the statements in verses 33-36 of the same chapter and how the Lord was moved emotionally. His weeping reveals in one sense how love and suffering often go hand in hand. Another great example of this fact is evidenced in the very words of Christ found in John 3:16. Who would know better than God the pain and loss associated with love.
For many, even some Christians, the presence of pain, suffering, and death is somehow equated with the idea that God must be absent during these specific times of difficulty. To say that God doesn't care about the pain and suffering within humanity is blatantly untrue. As created being we often limit our focus to the physical world and connect our wellness or sickness with being loved or unloved. The truth is, by ignoring the spiritual the realm we also ignore the greatest element of healing offered by God which also conveys His great love (Romans 5:8). We need to remember also that a deficiency of healing never means one lacks enough faith to be healed (a false teaching of the prosperity movement). Note the words of Martha in John 11:20-22:
John 11:20-22 (ESV) So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
John 11:39-40 (NASB) Jesus *said, "Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, *said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus *said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"
Secondly, God has called some to suffer for His glory (John 11:4)
I realize this statement may sound odd and even morbid to some individuals, but the Scriptures are filled with examples that illustrate this point. Remember a man named Saul in Acts 9 who hated and persecuted the Church? God would use him to bring glory to Himself through many trials and difficulties. Read again the Lord’s statement to Ananias in Acts 9:15-16 and the testimony of Paul’s life in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.
God is always purposeful in His actions and Lazarus’s case is no different. Again many might question God’s “methods” or the allowance of suffering for His glory, yet we need to remember that God is Sovereign and Holy and owes humanity nothing. Maybe we need to be reminded more often that without the suffering of Christ on the cross there would be no resurrection, no glorification, and no eternal life!
John 17:1 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,
Psalm 50:15 (ESV) and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
John 11:43-44 (ESV) When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
When it comes to the question of “Why” I’m reminded of a C. S. Lewis’ quote; “The question for a Christian isn’t why me Lord, but why not me.”
P.S. I thank God daily not only for my wife Teresa but also our sons Joshua and Tanner. These two young men were solid when I was weak and needed support. They bring me great pride and joy and I dedicate this blog to them.