Does God have anything to do with our suffering?
John’s gospel has an interesting story that may shed light on suffering for us.
The story of Lazarus starts in chapter 10 with Jesus across the Jordan where John has been baptizing. Where was this baptismal place? Some have said he was simply right across the Jordan and could have easily been back to Bethany in a day. Some point out that Jesus could have been further north, attempting to get Jesus off the hook for his delay.
Thee is some room for debate, but the physical distance form Jesus to Bethany is really not that important.
So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:6)
When Jesus heard Lazarus was sick, he stayed for 2 (two) more days. That’s right. Jesus purposefully delayed. Jesus refused to come when the family wanted him to come. Jesus refused to come when Lazarus was still alive and ill. Even after Jesus claimed this sickness would not end in death, he still stayed. (John 11:4)
Jesus was king over Lazarus’ life. To demonstrate his power, his right, his wisdom and his sovereignty over the timing of suffering, Jesus delayed.
Mary and Martha were in agony watching Lazarus suffer. The disciples were in fear of returning so near to Jerusalem so soon. Lazarus, once raised from the dead, would have to face death again, and he most likely did not look forward to that process. But none of them were sovereign over the timing of their suffering. Jesus didn’t ask them if they were ready.
God is sovereign over the timing of our suffering as well. He brings to our lives what he wants, when he wants. He doesn’t ask us if this is a good time or not. And he doesn’t seek our approval of his plan before he acts.
Too many will take this to mean that God is not good. Some will take it to mean that I think God is mean-spirited, that he is out to get us; Some that he somehow enjoys our suffering. But John records for us an encouraging word.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.(John 11:5-6)
Jesus’ plan for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha originated in his love for them. It was out of his love that he left Lazarus in his sickness for 2 (two) more days. It was out of his love that he allowed Mary and Martha to experience the loss of a loved one. It was out of his love that he ripped Lazarus from the world beyond and forced him to die a second time. The timing of suffering arises out of Christ’s love for his people.
When we see the love ahead of the plan, we can more easily submit ourselves to him and be at peace as we walk through the suffering.