It’s a hard question, and it’s one that is timeless, plaguing everyone from ten-year-olds to grandparents with ten grandchildren.
I didn’t answer her question in that moment. I continued listening as she went on to say more, and I asked more about what was going on in her heart. Turns out, after two weeks of suffering, I was the only person that she could open up with and confess the deep question residing in her heart, “How can I still trust God?” Two weeks. Two weeks of pretending that she trusted in God’s perfect plan and that she would be fine. The people who heard and saw her simply reinforced the mask by saying, “You’re so strong!” “You’re such an example.” “We admire you so much.” What she actually needed to hear was not how strong she was, but that it’s okay to be weak. It’s okay to be fragile. Proverbs 25:20 says, “Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound” (NLT).
Every time she heard another “compliment” about how remarkably well she was doing holding it all together, there was another spoonful of vinegar on her wounded heart, another person ripping off her clothes in the freezing cold. When she really needed to cry on someone’s shoulder, she heard cheerful songs.
We don't believe the Gospel
Why do we get so uncomfortable and insecure and, even, obnoxious when people have something happen to them that rocks their entire world? Why do we start to spout off answers callously when people start to ask the hard questions? I think it’s because we don’t believe the gospel as much as we think we do.
Over the past few years, John 11 has become one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. The story is a familiar one; Lazarus, one of Jesus’ dear friends, is sick to the point of death, and his two sisters—Mary and Martha—send for Jesus, asking him to come and heal their dying brother. Jesus does something that is startling and frustrating: He intentionally doesn’t come. He waits for his friend to die, and then he shows up. Martha comes out to meet him, wrestling with the fact that her Lord could have prevented her brother’s death, and yet chose not to.
Jesus simply asks the question, “Do you believe I am the resurrection and the life?” (v.25). Martha responds, “Yes, I have always believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God” (v.27). And with that, Jesus asks for her sister, Mary. Mary immediately comes to him, and expresses the same frustration and pain: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v.32). In a sense, they were asking, “Where were you? Why did you let this happen?” Jesus doesn’t freak out like we often do when we hear such questions posed toward God. Jesus doesn’t spout off any answers at all. A remarkable thing happens: Jesus weeps. The account says that he was deeply moved and greatly troubled, so much so, that everyone around him said, “See how he loved him!” (v.36). Jesus was visibly greatly trouble.
Jesus Grieves with you
Now, before Jesus shows up, he explains to his disciples that he waited to come until Lazarus died so that God’s glory could be displayed and so that they would believe (vv.14-15). By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus certainly reveals God’s glory and stirs up faith. Still, I cannot help but think that one of the reasons why Jesus waited was so that he could weep with this grieving family. That Jesus allows himself to feel so deeply over the brokenness in the world says just as much about who he is as does the miracle that follows. A God who weeps over death provokes worship and belief, too.
In my Intro to Youth Ministry class this past semester, my wise professor shared with us several principles of ministry. One of them is this: “People want people more than they want answers.” In the midst of her heartache, confusion, and doubt, Jesus asks Martha if she believes the gospel. She answers with a simple yes, and then he proceeds to be with her and the others who are grieving. No answers; just presence. The gospel frees us to be with others—to really be there with others. It frees us to feel the brokenness of this life in the present. It frees us to wonder, to wrestle, to struggle, and to question. It frees us to pause and to be silent rather than answering questions with empty words. People want more than answers; they want to know deeply—at the core of their being—they are loved and held.
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death has been defeated forever. But it doesn’t always feel that way, does it? Hebrews 2 tells us that God the Father has put everything under the authority of Jesus the Son. But, like my friend, in times of loss, sorrow, and grief, we often don’t feel like Jesus has authority over anything. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (v. 8-9).
We’re free to be weak
When we can’t see that he’s in control, we’re called to look to the cross, where Jesus took upon himself all of the suffering of the world, including the death of a father. And he endured it all while being forsaken by the Father, so that when we’re enduring the suffering in the world, we can have the comfort of the Father. When it’s hard to believe that Jesus is in authority, we’re called to remember how he willingly gave up everything in order to enter into our suffering. Jesus is the suffering servant who not only entered into our suffering but who is really present with us in all of our suffering. It’s that Jesus who’s in control.
The gospel is the glorious declaration that Christ holds all things together, and because he’s holding it all together, we don’t have to. We’re free to be weak, and we’re free to be present with those who are.
Rachel Cohen has her Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and is currently pursuing her Master's in Theological Studies at RTS Orlando. She works in the youth ministry at Orangewood Church, PCA in Orlando, FL.