When God Lets Bad Things Happen… to YOU

I never thought much about death, until I had to.

If you’ve lost a loved one unexpectedly, I can relate. Life felt like a bad dream. The person I was losing was me, and I didn’t want to go. My name is Lazarus and I was a good friend of Jesus and His disciples. Even though I was His friend, Jesus let me die. Even though I had so much life I still wanted to live, I died.

Here’s how it happened.  

I got sick.

One day I didn’t feel well at all.  I was about thirty years old at that time. An illness came on rather suddenly and I got a severe fever,  chills, and grew very weak.  I was forced to get into bed and it only got worse when I started to cough.  We thought it was just a cold, but then I started to have trouble breathing and my sisters got really worried.  My skin didn’t look right.  We called for a doctor, but the medicines didn’t help and neither did the prayers.  We prayed fervently and nothing happened.  We wondered whether God heard us and if He cared at all, or if He even existed. Things happened so fast.

We prayed for God to heal me.

In desperation, my big sister Martha decided to call our friend Jesus.  One time we had seen Him heal a man of blindness and we hoped maybe His powers would work on whatever illness I contracted.  We were all great friends with Him and we knew He would come if we called Him.  Martha got some money together to hire a messenger that would travel on foot to Bethany, where He was staying with His disciples.  I told Martha she was probably over-reacting, but you know how older sisters like to take charge.  I really thought I would get better, but truth is I was glad she called for Him because I was growing more and more ill.  The thought of Jesus arriving at my bedside brought me comfort.

We prayed that I wouldn’t die.

I felt strangely at peace, but I didn’t improve.  Martha made soup while my other sister Mary stayed by me, putting compresses on my head and feeding me broth; I continued to struggle to get oxygen. My coughing fits grew worse and my airway was restricted.  I breathed faster and faster.  I remember my sisters listening for a knock on the door from Jesus and scanning the road for his arrival.  I reassured them that He would come as I started to fade in and out of consciousness.  I remember feeling badly for them because they were so sad and exhausted.  I’m the baby of the family and they have always fussed and fretted over me.  They never left my side.  

I knew He would come.

They tell me I died in the early hours of the morning.  Thus began all the preparations for my body.  I don’t know if your sisters have seen you naked, but them putting spices on me is not my favorite thing to imagine.  Maybe they kept a blanket over me and closed their eyes as they worked.  I have never asked them about the details—  I can’t even think about it, to be honest.

In our culture you had to purchase aloes and myrrh and strips of linen to wrap my face and body.  My sisters did everything with great care, I’m sure.  Martha claims she did more of the tasks and heavy lifting, while Mary tended to the family and friends that gathered.  They probably got into an argument and Mary called Martha “uptight” and Martha called Mary “lazy,” but my sisters are honestly the best.  I have been a lot nicer to them since they took care of me.

He didn’t come when we asked Him.

Throughout all these preparations, Jesus wasn’t there.  Mary and Martha were perplexed and worried that something bad had happened to Him, since the Jewish religious leaders were always trying to stone Him.  He left Jerusalem for awhile to lay low in Bethany.  While they hoped nothing bad had taken place, that was better than imagining that He didn’t care enough to come to us.

Soon the mourners from the temple showed up and a crowd was gathered.  They secured a tomb for me and laid me to rest, sealing the entrance with a large stone.  Bodies in our hot climate start to decompose rather quickly, so it’s important not to wait too long.

I had been dead four days when word arrived that Jesus was almost to the house.  Martha took off to meet Him and find out what had happened.  Mary is more emotional and stayed at the house.  They were both devastated by shock and grief, but they showed it differently.  Martha distracted herself by staying busy; Mary shut down. Martha is more thinker; Mary is more feeler.

They told Him honestly how they felt.

Now comes the touchy part.  Martha ran out and asked Him where He had been and why He didn’t come sooner.  He told her he was in Bethany.  Martha told him face to face: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”   If I know my sister, she was a little incredulous, a little sad, a little angry.  Or maybe a lot.  Jesus wasn’t angry or defensive at all with my sisters. He listened with empathy as they poured out their frustration and questions. Jesus knew Martha needed answers, and they got into a theological discussion.  I was still dead, by the way.  Jesus asked her who she thought He was.  She said that she believed He was the Messiah, the Son of God, who was sent by God and that she knew she would see me again on the day of resurrection.  Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me will never die,” but I had already died.  He asked: do you believe this? She nodded yes. That seemed to satisfy her and she went to get Mary.

Mary rushed out to meet Jesus too, but the first thing she did was collapse on the ground at his feet. Her comment was the same, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” but she was curled up in a ball, sobbing. His reaction to Mary was different and from their interaction we get one of the most famous verses in the gospel:

Jesus wept.

Here’s what Jesus didn’t do: He didn’t tell her to stop crying or that her brother will go to heaven someday. He didn’t say, “At least you still have your sister.” He didn’t change the subject and suggest getting her mind off what happened. Jesus was “deeply moved and troubled.” He wept. Actually, He cried so hard that the other people exclaimed, “See how He loved him!”  He loved ME and He loved my sisters and sometimes when people you love are crying, you cry too. He simply cried with them. His empathy comforted Mary as He shared her pain.

After that He asked to come to my tomb.  I read what John wrote in his biography and apparently when Jesus got there He started weeping again.  I have to admit, Jesus did love me.  I could always tell that I was one of His favorites.  Then a lot of people commented:  “Since He healed the eyes of the blind man, couldn’t He have stopped this?” Seriously though…

Why didn’t He stop me from dying???

That is what we all wanted to know. If I was God and my friend was dying, I think that I would stop it. Don’t people who love each other do anything they can to prevent each other from suffering??? Since He didn’t, we had to decide if we would trust Him anymore. My sisters had to decide if they would forgive Him. They wanted to believe that He was still good, but they had doubts.

I’ve always been moved by the fact that Jesus cried so much.  You probably know by now that He brought me back to life, so He wasn’t crying because He wouldn’t see me anymore.  I think that He hurt for my family and the extreme pain that they were feeling.  He cried for my suffering and His love for me. He may have cried because He was misunderstood and knew that some didn’t believe in His goodness or who He was.   Maybe he wept because the guys gave excuses about why they shouldn’t come and seemed more worried about getting killed and their personal safety than coming to help me.  I know it was sometimes stressful to be one of His disciples because people were always trying to stone them.  Maybe He cried because we were meant to live and He wants us all to live forever, but sin and death have entered our stories.

Jesus wept.

For the rest of my life whenever I thought about Jesus, I thought about him weeping when I died and I loved Him even more than before.  I was lucky enough to find out who my true friends were at my funeral.

Now for the good part… soon I re-entered the story.  My body was inside the tomb in grave clothes when I heard this loud voice of Jesus say, “Lazarus, come out!”  When Jesus calls you by name, you hear Him even when you’re dead! I found myself dazed, moving toward a crowd of people who were all weeping and wailing.  I was alive but bound by linen strips all over my body.  When I saw Jesus, his eyes were red and swollen from crying, but He had a huge grin on His face.  My sisters started screaming hysterically and jumping up and down.  They ran to me and attacked me with hugs and kisses, tears streaming down their faces, hugging each other, looking me over, grabbing my face, pinching my cheeks.  The crowd was shocked and nobody was more surprised than me to realize all that took place.  I couldn’t walk well in the grave clothes, so Jesus told them to take them off me and let me go.  I told them not too fast; I was naked underneath that linen and needed a new outfit.

I knew He would come!

It was clear that the disciples felt enormously relieved.  We were all such good friends, but nobody is perfect.  They confided later, privately, that they felt guilty for being afraid and not wanting to come to me. They were shocked that when Jesus heard that I was sick, He purposefully stayed two more days before he left Bethany.  He obviously chose to let me die before He came.  Can you believe my best buddy let me die?  Then He cried when I was dead.  This strange combination of joy, confusion, and anger took a while for us to reconcile.  Why would Jesus let me die?  I know He loves us, but why would He let my sisters go through all that pain and sadness just to bring me back to life?  Why didn’t He stop my suffering?  What kind of God is He?

If I could make up my own  God, He would do whatever I want. Kind of like a genie. But Jesus… He was a mystery. We couldn’t predict his next move and no one could control Him but we knew He was good. In fact, Jesus is better than any God I could have made up because He figured out how to give me life and help a lot of neighbors come to faith.

These thoughts crossed my mind but we were mainly celebrating.  I was a big deal for a few days!  When word got to town, people came in droves to see me and get the story firsthand.  A couple of women fainted when I came out of the tomb and everybody had to give their version of what happened.  I have never seen a group of people act that excited.  Jesus was right there with everyone, talking and celebrating.  Of course my sister Martha started feeding everyone and went into hospitality mode.   Many people believed in Jesus that day because they saw me raised to life after they had seen me dead with their own eyes.  

God didn’t give us what we wanted; He gave us a better gift.

We never even thought to pray for resurrection!

Of course my sister later hosted a private dinner to celebrate after things calmed down.  We were growing very close because of all we had gone through together and it was a very memorable night.  Martha was cooking and serving delicious food and I was at the table with Jesus and the disciples.  There was never a shortage of jokes and exciting things to discuss!  The most moving part of the evening was when Mary quietly approached Jesus with a bottle of pure nard.  She started pouring it on His feet and the aroma filled the room.  Everyone was shocked because the perfume was worth about a year’s wages but Mary didn’t care.  You should have seen the love on her face. It is hard to describe how Jesus made us all feel.  Not only were we grateful that He brought me back to life, but to be in His presence was to experience a peace, power, and acceptance we had never known.  Those were some of the best times of my life.  

However, the fun was short lived because not everyone was happy and not everyone believed.  The chief priests were irate and ordered both Jesus and I to be killed.  Not again!  I really didn’t want to die a second time yet, but it quickly became apparent that Jesus’ popularity and my miraculous testimony were dangerous and unwelcome to their power and authority.  They had to get the people back under control and that meant getting rid of Jesus.  Tensions and hostility against Him rivaled  the craze of his wildly popular fan base.  Almost everybody wanted to see more miracles.  Many people wanted Him to be King.  Palm Sunday was chaos with droves of people chanting Hosanna as He made his triumphal entry.

You probably know the rest of the story and how He was crucified shortly thereafter for the crimes of treason and blasphemy.  They didn’t like Him saying He was God, even though He was. It was sad, but it’s okay because Jesus let them kill Him. If He wouldn’t have died, He couldn’t have saved us, so it all worked out for the best.

Here’s the thing:  my story didn’t make sense until afterwards.  Just like your story, everything will be more clear looking back. Here’s my advice.

Trust Him, even with your Anger and Fear.

When you pray, don’t say phony things you don’t mean or what you think you should say. Be like my sisters: give Him your real emotions. Move toward Him; He will meet you where you’re at, not where you think you’re supposed to be. Yell at Him, cry to Him, beg Him to help you. You can even complain to Him! One time my sister Martha tattled to Him about Mary because she didn’t think she was helping enough in the kitchen. Ask Him for what you need and ask Him about the things that don’t make sense. Jesus is a person, not a religion. He can handle everything you’re trying to hide. If you mess up it’s alright because He has already forgiven you. Remember the paralyzed guy? Jesus told him, “Friend, your sins are forgiven,” and the guy hadn’t even asked for forgiveness.

Learn from my story and apply it to yours.

We felt like He had forgotten about us…  He was praying for us the whole time.

We asked God to heal me so I wouldn’t die…  He brought me back to life forever.

We wanted Him to spare us from suffering…  He suffered with us and for us.

We focused on our will…  He focused on the will of God, even when it cost Him His life. 

We wondered if our pain was wasted.  He used the tragedy to bring many to saving faith in God.

We wondered why He would let me die…  He offered His life so I might live.

We reasoned that if Jesus loved us, he should have healed me…  God demonstrated that because He loves us, He saved us and gave us eternal life.

We placed our faith in the coming resurrection as our hope over death…  He showed us that He is the resurrection and the life and our hope rests in Him.

I know it sounds difficult, but don’t be afraid— just believe.  Try to trust Him to know what you need, to know when you need it, and how He wants to do it.  He knows what it’s like to suffer and His nail scarred hands will never let you go. My sisters said that if He had been here I wouldn’t have died. Truth is, if He hadn’t been here on earth we would all die, but because He died, we can all live. He has not forgotten you and one day you too will say, “I knew You would come!”

I love you.  Jesus loves you more.

A few thoughts:

Thank you for diving into this story with me. This glimpse of Jesus has been a game changer for me, personally. This story brings comfort and reassurance that we are so loved every time I am confronted with tragedy or bad things that happen to good people. Any time I wonder how God can let horrible things happen and whether He cares, I remember Jesus wept. When a child is raped, Jesus weeps. When cancer strikes, Jesus weeps. In hurricanes, floods, shootings, suicides, hospitals, cemeteries, and prisons, any time and anywhere that there are broken hearted people, Jesus weeps with us. Not because he is weak and emotional, but because of His compassion and love.

He is there with us and He cares, even if we can’t feel it at the time. He died so that we can have eternal life that is pain free. He was raised to life to show us that He has power over death. His nail scarred hands and tears prove that He suffers with us. We believe by faith and faith comes from hearing the historical testimonies of people like John, Mary, Peter, James and others who knew Jesus and walked with Him. The first century witnesses tell us that Jesus is alive! Jesus loves you! Know Jesus, know God. Believe in Him, and receive life everlasting! The gospels are historical accounts— they saw it with their own eyes, felt it, heard it, were touched by it.

Another thing I love about this story is the reminder that Jesus didn’t “need” His disciples help. He told them, “I am going to wake Lazarus up.” He invited them to follow. They could have opted out. But, Thomas basically said ‘Let’s go even if we die,’ and because they went they saw an extraordinary, exciting miracle. Because they followed Jesus, they were part of a resurrection and a celebration. That is the essence of the Christian life. Sometimes we are called to suffer and enter into the suffering of others. Often we are ridiculed, mocked, and hated. But, we are also blessed with friendship with God and breathtaking glimpses of His love and power. You can follow and be blessed, or not. The choice is yours. Me… I don’t want to miss any of it!

My last thought is regarding our human focus. I want me and my tribe to live forever and never experience pain or suffering, so it’s a struggle to “set my mind on things above.” It’s very easy to question God’s goodness or power when He doesn’t stop bad things. The focus of Jesus is on both NOW and ETERNITY. The cross brings reconciliation and gives us entrance to eternal life, a time of no more suffering or pain, but faith in Christ is the key and death is the portal. Jesus said that in this world, we will have trouble but take heart— He has overcome the world! However, Lazarus wasn’t “free” the same moment he was brought to life; sometimes we need to get help from others to live our best life in freedom.

Finally, as I write, I have so many friends and family on my mind who are not followers of Jesus. Here’s what I want to say to you: I want to thank you for your friendship. You are so important to me and I don’t value you less because we have different experiences or world views. I’d love to hear your story. Maybe religion leaves you uninspired, and you don’t like to go to church. Maybe Christianity seems hypocritical or judgmental, you were raised in another religion, you don’t like religion, or the Bible seems outdated. Maybe supernatural events seem too farfetched to believe.

If we could set all that aside for a moment and I could introduce you to Jesus, I think you would really enjoy meeting Him. If you sat down with Him to share a drink, I think that you would have an honest, fascinating conversation that might play out much differently and better than you may expect. I want you to know my Friend because He is your Friend too. He is the Friend that loved you first, even if you don’t know Him or believe in Him yet. And He said that when you know Him, you know God.