The first year our home school group offered drama, my daughter was 10 and eager to perform. She had been in ballet performances when she was younger and she couldn’t wait to join the drama group with her closest friends, so when I told her we could not participate, she was terribly disappointed. Although she did not argue, big tears welled up in her eyes and my heart broke to see her displeasure. I knew the decision I had made was one that was best for our entire family and that in the grand scheme of life it was a minor disappointment, but still, because of my love for her and my desire to take away her hurt, I was filled with compassion and my heart ached for her. Her father had died less than two years earlier and her older brother had just been diagnosed with congestive heart failure; she had suffered much already in her short life and I hated to deprive her of this small pleasure, but I knew my decision was best for our entire family and that somehow it would be good for her too.
Just as my daughter had to endure disappointment for the greater good of our family, there are times when God is glorified in the suffering of believers. I know that it is difficult for many to believe that a good and loving God would allow us to suffer and it is easy to cry ‘unfair’, but God is fair and just and it is undeniable that scripture tells us we can and will suffer -and some will suffer for the sake of Christ and His glory. I was reminded of this suffering for the greater good recently and deeply touched by the compassion of our Lord as I was reading the story of Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of John.
After he received news of Lazarus’s illness, Jesus tarried for two days. Meanwhile Mary and Martha were grieving for their brother – they were suffering deeply. When Jesus finally arrives he is greeted by these grief stricken sisters, both of whom express their disappointment and sorrow that He did not come sooner and save them from this painful loss. Jesus knew that Lazarus would soon be resurrected and that in his resurrection, God would be glorified. It was for this purpose that he had tarried in coming. In John 11:4, Jesus said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” He knew that their sorrow would soon be turned to gladness, and yet this story contains one of the shortest and most powerful verses in scripture, “Jesus wept.”
Those Jews who were nearby thought Jesus was grieving for Lazarus, but if Jesus knew Lazarus would soon rise, why should He weep for Lazarus? So, if He was not weeping for Lazarus, why did he weep? I think his tears were for Mary and Martha. Although it is more than implied, John specifically records in verse five Christ’s love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and in verse thirty-five he tells of how Jesus groaned in his spirit and was troubled when he saw Mary weeping and the Jews who were with her. He wept because He loved them and they were suffering.
I’m sure this was not the first time they had suffered loss and it certainly would not be the last. It would not be long before they would suffer the loss of their beloved Lord. Although he would rise from the grave, soon they would no longer enjoy his earthly presence and sweet fellowship. He would leave them with eternal hope, but his physical presence would no longer be with them. Though He loved them deeply and His heart was filled with compassion for them, Jesus did not completely remove suffering from the lives of these two sisters.
And so it is for us today, He has provided us with the comfort of His Holy Spirit, but that does not alleviate our suffering in this fallen world. Scripture has much to say on the subject of suffering; it is referred to as momentary, light, afflictions that work for us a more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. We are told to count it all joy when we suffer and there are numerous other references in scripture to the many lessons that must be learned in the classroom of suffering. Suffering also brings to remembrance the hope that we who belong to Him have of eternal salvation and it lessens the tight grip we have on this broken world.
However, although we must suffer, as I was reading this story I was greatly touched and found immense comfort in knowing that while we suffer we have a Heavenly Father who is full of compassion and mercy toward us. He loves us and it is in this story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus that we see moving evidence of the depth of His great love. We suffer for our good and His glory, but while we live and suffer in this fallen world we can find comfort in knowing we have a God who is touched by our sorrow, moved with compassion, and gracious towards us. He may not remove the suffering but we can find comfort in knowing that as we suffer He is there in the midst of our suffering, weeping with us, and someday He will wipe every tear from our eyes as He removes far from us all earthly pain and suffering.