The story of Lazarus frustrates me. I know Jesus eventually raises him from the dead, but the fact that he lets him die and stay in the grave while others weep and mourn – it’s difficult for me to understand. I’ve heard several explanations and interpretations. They make sense, kind of. But there is a piece of me that still feels disappointed. If Jesus could have spared them all the pain (and He could have) why didn’t He?
And I ask it not just for Lazarus and Mary, but for myself, and for others who are hurting. For those who feel dead inside…the hearts that feel trapped behind the doors of the tomb…and those who watch them writhe in pain and desperately wish they could make it stop…but they can’t.
I know the easy churchified answer, but that doesn’t always satisfy. When we see and hear about things that are just wrong and seem unnecessary, we need something deeper. Because if there is not a reason for Him choosing to allow suffering, than how can we say He is good?
Purpose from the pain. Beauty from the ashes. Good from the bad. All of those things. I get it. I really do. But the answer still falls short, at least for me, of explaining the allowableness of the pain experience itself.
And in my searching last night as I laid in my bed trying to come to some new level of understanding, this crossed my mind…
All of it means nothing – the purpose, the beauty, the good – if we refuse to accept the message of the cross.
Because the message of the cross is dirty. It’s scary, nasty and frankly – gives me nightmares. Every time I watch a reenactment on TV or a movie, I can’t hardly stand it. It makes me want to vomit. And even though I know how the story ends – and it ends well – the pain of the cross is tremendously real.
And so if Jesus suffered in such a way, if God allowed Him to suffer a fate that I can’t even stomach, then what makes me or you or anyone else immune to pain?
The answer is nothing.
Because the cross is painful. It is pain and hurt and abandonment and being shoved into the darkness by hateful humans spitting in our face. It is the Son of God, forsaken. It is blood spilled and flesh torn – it’s real life.
Jesus did not avoid pain. And He didn’t go around with big red bows trying to quickly tie up Lazarus’ or Mary’s pain either. He’s not a card carrying fairy princess godmother. He was flesh that suffered and died, not so we could avoid hurting, but so we wouldn’t be alone and abandoned in the process.
He was there when Lazarus died. He was there while Mary wept alone. He is there when children get raped. He is there when a sweet girl puts a blade to her wrist. He is there when the addict shoots up or swallows another handful of pills. He is there when life brings the unspeakable and makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever. And it pains Him, it desperately pains Him, but He isn’t our glorified gigantic handyman. The message of the cross is knowing there will be pain, but because of His suffering, we do not have to suffer alone. That pain is uncomfortable – but with His presence we will be okay. He brings freedom not always from hurting – but from being unsheltered, deserted, and left with insufficient power to heal.
And so yes, beauty from ashes, and purpose from pain, but maybe more importantly the deep deep connection of the one who fills our lungs when the air sucks out of the room and we can’t even breath. In it all, He remains.