WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS? GRIEF
Updated: Jul 18, 2022
PASTOR ROB INRIG'S MESSAGE IS GIVING US ANSWERS TO OUR WHY?
BUT GOD IS ALWAYS DOING A BIGGER WORK THAN WE CAN UNDERSTAND AS IT IS WRITTEN IN THE SCRIPTURES: I AM GLAD I WAS NOT THERE, SO THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE;
John 11:15 - June 12, 2022
Of all the sermons in our series, this morning’s theme stirs up a ton of emotions. Hurt, anger, confusion, abandonment, doubt – just to name a few. Simply put, grief is hard. Excruciatingly hard. Like a whirlwind that touches down in so many places, leaving destruction in its path. Despite what can be said about it, it’s not something to be understood as much as to be endured. Sure, we can talk about Kubler Ross’ 5 stages and all that, but grief that strikes at the soul level is so much more than principles and stages. Where worlds are turned upside down - heartaches intense, losses profound. The duration of these, long term, often with no end in sight. Answers are never fully answered. Because they can’t, not when hearts are broken. So this morning no easy answers, just some finger-holds on hope – yet hope that is real and deep.
Hope is needed because of sin that delivered wreckage when a first bite was taken, evil rushing in to destroy. The demonic ruining perfection in their quest to overthrow God. And among sin’s greatest weapons, grief marring what was good. Paradise lost. Grief and loss weaponized to bring death to God had created, the ultimate plan to —bring about the death of God Himself.
C.S. Lewis pictured grief this way, Grief is like a winding road where any bend may reveal a new landscape … “For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down? How often - will it be for always? - how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss till this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time.”
A leg repeatedly cut off, an apt metaphor for cycling pain, life continuously off balance. Tough stuff and if grief has recently visited you, you know it to be true. One of the saddest realizations is that we, in Adam and Eve, actually chose this and though we may want to deny it, we still do.
Sin blinding by what they didn’t have, they choose to exchange perfection for the knowledge of the one thing they didn’t have – knowledge of evil and with it, knowledge of pain. Before this, everything was good. And yet deceived, Adam and Eve, opt for the loss rather than gain. The choice made wasn’t presented like that. It never is. Because sin shows us what it wants us to see, covering up what will soon be seen. Showing the thrill of attraction, not the pain underneath what attracts. Attraction written large, payment written small. Not revealing the cost. The loss of those loved. The loss of innocence. The loss of things hoped for. And with the loss, inconsolable grief. The word loss is easier to absorb than the death that’s described - what Scripture says is, the wages of sin.
With the bite taken, we then do our best to dull the effects by anesthetizing with substances and activity. For a time they seem to work but in time reveal that at best they only provide symptom relief. Because the disease is at the soul level and the only answer for a dead soul is resurrection, a perspective we’re taken to in John 11. The setting - is a confrontation with death. The event – was confusing and spectacular. And as the event is witnessed - some transformed, some driven to kill.
It's a gathering around a tomb where we see several people - among them: Mary and Martha, some guests - some not - like the Pharisees and disciples. This last group was very confused. No wonder. When Jesus gets word that Lazarus, the one He loves is sick, they get packed and ready to go to him but Jesus isn’t going anywhere. Instead, when he hears Lazarus is sick, He stays where He is 2 days longer:6. He delays. Not acting in any way that we expect. And things like that confuse. When God delays. When God is silent. Knowing He has the power to intervene but bewildered because He chooses not to.
The disciples came up with an explanation for that remembering that only days —before the crowd tried to kill Jesus. So their conclusion, Jesus was making the safe choice. The wise choice. But when news came that Lazarus was dead, He now announces it was time to go and that made no sense. And they told Him so. Telling Him what He should do. Telling Him what He didn’t understand. Telling Him how He should act.
Kind of like what we do in our grief, in our pain. Telling God what needs to be done especially when our grief shouts loud. Telling God how He should act. Telling Him what He doesn’t know. And when God doesn’t do what we want, confusion and crushing disappointment Because love shouldn’t look like that. Love should intervene.
It should rescue. It should draw close. And making that confusion worse, sometimes He does intervene exactly as we’d expect, where God does rescue, where God does put an end to grief. So the should’s that prompt our confusion aren’t wrong because an intervening, rescuing, grief-ending God is who God IS.
So how do we make sense of the disconnect?
And the answer is similar to what the disciples were presented with that didn’t end their confusion because, in the immediacy of their pain, they didn’t understand that His love is deeper than what we understand, greater than what we see. Love that calls us to trust in times we don’t see. He knows that’s hard. But that’s what trust is.
Belief in the things we do see gives us faith in the things we don’t yet see. Trust to anchor us to His character, not His acts.
Asking, even in my grief to step into faith in Him even when the answers we’ve needed don’t come and the dreams for which we’ve prayed are still unfulfilled.
Just like the disciples, confused when they’re told, ‘It’s time to go after they thought they had things figured out, reminding that, My ways are not your ways, My thoughts are not your thoughts.’
It made no sense but they were going even though they feared death was waiting for them. Thomas makes that clear when he says, Let us go that we may die with him:16. Thomas so often gets a bad rap, characterized as doubting Thomas but here seen as a man who was courageously devoted to Jesus. What he feared was right - death was waiting for them, only not as they anticipated. Little did they know, Jesus needed death to appear so He could powerfully declare resurrection over the curse sin brought - death.
Jesus’ delay was purposeful on two accounts: the 1st without death – there is no resurrection. Which means no hope. No answer for our grief. Not now, not ever. But Jesus does what Satan feared - pulling the cover off to reveal the lie Satan presented to Eve. That what is shown to entice, to attract, only brings death, no matter how glorious it looks. Far worse than physical death, spiritual death where we are told we’re all dead in our trespasses and sin unless there is resurrection.
The resurrection of new life only given us Jesus. Which is to say our grief, as deep and oppressive as it is doesn’t get the final word because Jesus has conquered sin and death. Death does not win - unless we refuse to admit what Jesus tells us that we are dead in our sin.
There’s a 2nd reason for the delay. Before the disciples and Jesus arrive, Lazarus has been dead for 4 days. This is significant because some Jewish superstitions believed that for 3 days the spirit hovered around the body before it would leave. 3 days of wailing. 3 days of hugs and tears. 3 days of little sleep. 3 days for evidence to be all in. And then, on day 4 when Jesus turned everything upside down. The undeniably dead just waiting for life to be spoken into it.
So concerning grief, what are we taking from this?
• Delay does not mean the absence of God’s love - tho it can feel like it
In our delayed times, God wants to:
- deepening our trust in who He IS far more than for what He does I’m confident that in those two days of delay, Jesus had a lot of eyes looking at Him. Trying to make sense, trying to understand. And yet, in their confusion, quiet assurance.
- strengthening our trust for things ahead, not just things that immediately surround
the disciples increasingly knew the mess they were in but they had no idea of the mess they were heading into.
And for that, they would need trust that would hold even in deep darkness
- helping us understand our Wants are very different from our Needs
• Don’t expect to always understand God’s answers
When the disciples question Jesus about the wisdom of returning to where the Jews wanted Him dead, He responds with an answer about 12 hours of light. His answer seems to have little to do with what is asked, yet His answer ultimately declares that darkness cannot conquer light.
For time grief convinces us that light is gone, sealed away never to come again but light will never be vanquished. Light will defeat darkness no matter how black the darkness, no matter the evil darkness brings. So in Jesus’ answer, the disciples are given both a picture of the light and darkness spiritual battle they are in as well as a call to action to bring the light in us into places where darkness now is. More specifically, though they don’t yet know it, they are given a warning about darkness they’ll soon be thrown into where grief will crush and for a time, will win. But with that, a promise - darkness will give way to light. The covered will be removed, the sealed will be opened, and the hidden will be revealed.
Who knew such an answer was possible when Lazarus lay dead in a closed-off tomb? Who knew when questions were asked and tears were shed? Who knows amid our grief when answers and healing don’t come? Yet, for those gathered around the tomb, God working out a spectacular that will be a preview for the —Resurrection of all Resurrections soon to come. That Resurrection will also bring one more resurrection when Jesus comes again as conquering King to end all grief.
Those surrounding Lazarus’ tomb had no idea of any of this. All they understood was pain, grief and tears. When tears first came, Martha and Mary went to the only place they knew answers could be given. Sending word to Jesus then looking out on the horizon, waiting for their nightmare to end. Knowing the inevitable would change. Death wouldn’t win. But Jesus didn’t come. When no tears remained, the stone rolled into place, and the conclusion was written. This didn’t delay – this was finality!
Ever been there? I know you have. So when Martha states, If only you’d been here, she is asking the same questions we ask – Where were You? Why didn’t You? Why Would You?
• God is always doing a bigger work than we can understand
To His disciples Jesus says, Lazarus has died, and for your sake, I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe ?:14,15 Don’t pass over that statement. I mean what is it His disciples needed to believe greater than what they knew? They know His power. They’ve experienced His love. They’ve known His wisdom. So what remains? A window into the eternal.
In the surrounding of grief and loss, Jesus had a purpose beyond anything the disciples or Mary and Martha could imagine.
Jesus preparing to raise Lazarus from the dead. This miracle could have spared Mary and Martha the tears but the only miracle that would matter would need to come through death which means pain and tears. Jesus meets grief and death head-on to render a death blow to their power. Where death would be swallowed up in the victory of everlasting life. The outcome assured, His delay so those He loves will be given a new picture that will leave them in awe as they see glimpses of the power and glory of God.
Jesus, stepping into our experience as LORD, taking the events of our lives meant for harm and rewriting them for our good and His glory. Some of those things known now, some still to be seen. His Glory revealed in ways we do not expect. His Glory revealed in a graveyard. His Glory in a fiery bush on a desert plain; His Glory coming to the ‘unesteemed’ on a hillside; His Glory appearing in a feed trough; His Glory in a nighttime garden in front of 3 disciples who couldn’t keep awake; His Glory hanging naked on a Cross. Glory coming in places the enemy would never think to look. Places of isolation and darkness. Places of grief. Places we are lost and without hope. At the time, His Glory not always seen. And in those places, Jesus reminds, I love even when you do not see; I love even when you do not understand; I love even when My purposes are hidden from view.
And His promise? One day what’s been hidden will be seen. One day the not understood will become clear.
One day the 3 days of now will be swallowed up by everlasting days to come. But the day now – painful, the grief - real, the grief – deep. And what we hold to? The one day to come.
But for now, as was the case for Martha, our Where were you? questions not always answered as we want. No explanation given, no justification made.
Often that’s because the answers to our Why’s? give far less re-assurance than what we hope. Because at the heart of the question is the removal of pain, the removal of loss. It’s asking for the return of what was traded away long ago in the Garden when everything was good. A reversal of Paradise Lost and the return of the Paradise first given. Where sin didn’t have its way. Where Parkinson’s couldn’t come to steal away; where limbs didn’t stop functioning as they should; where evil wasn’t present to twist and destroy. Far different than now when hope feels like just a word and when promises are easily given but rarely fulfilled. But just as given to the disciples and here to Martha, a promise given to us with a promise of the eternal -
Jesus’ answer to Mary and Martha’s ‘Why?’ questions:
I am the One who has the keys to death and hell. Rev 1:18 I alone have the authority, the final say over death.
I AM the Resurrection and the Life.
Mary, Martha, though you do not understand it now, I am the answer to every Why? you will ever ask. Even though many past events remain unanswered. Jesus simply assures - He is enough. Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live :25. That’s for Lazarus and for Mary, Martha and everyone else, Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die :26. that’s for you.
Helen Roseveare, (missionary, suffered) - Will you trust Me even if I never answer your ‘Why’s?
How about YOU? Right now, right where you are, know - Jesus does hear the cry of your heart even though you may not have the —evidence in hand.
His tears at Lazarus’ tomb tells us that. His tears weren’t for Lazarus. He knew He was going to bring Lazarus back to life. His tears were for us. His tears for the pain we suffer, the evil we face. His tears for the high price we paid when we refused God’s love and exchanged His truth for Satan’s lies.
His response to your circumstance may look different from what you might hope. His intervention in events may be one of delay rather than of immediacy. But his response to this cry is immediate, for those who have put saving faith in Jesus, His promise - resurrection will be spoken. New life will come. Death does not have the last word. Resurrection does. In His time Jesus will speak, “Come forth!” to all who know Him as Saviour. His call won’t be a universal, everyone come command but a word spoken – personally, invitationally to those who by faith are forgiven children of God because of the saving blood of Jesus so, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ Is 43:1. He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
His response to your circumstance may look different from what you might hope. His intervention in events may be one of delay rather than of immediacy. But his response to this cry is immediate, for those who have put saving faith in Jesus, His promise - resurrection will be spoken. New life will come. Death does not have the last word. Resurrection does. In His time Jesus will speak, “Come forth!” to all who know Him as Saviour. His call won’t be a universal, everyone come command but a word spoken – personally, invitationally to those who by faith are forgiven children of God because of the saving blood of Jesus so:
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ Is 43:1. He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Listen, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead shall be raised imperishable and we shall be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? 1 Cor 15:51-55
At Lazarus’ tomb, it is often observed that if Jesus hadn’t called Lazarus by name, every grave would have emptied but we know when Jesus returns, those who meet the Lord in the air will be selective, only for those who know Jesus as Saviour. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me Matt 7:22,23.
One last observation re grief. In the early 16th century when Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent took possession of Israel, he rebuilt many of Jerusalem’s Old City walls, among them the Eastern gate. Soon after, hearing stories that the Messiah would one day return and enter through the Eastern gate, Suleiman ordered the newly opened gate sealed shut. In the area in front of the gate, a Muslim cemetery was established so no Jew would set foot on defiled ground. His insurance that death would win.
But here’s the end of the story written by the prophet Ezekiel that tells us that grief and death will never win, the shut will be opened wide, I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice sounded like the roar of a huge torrent, and the earth shone with his glory. The glory of the Lord entered the temple by way of the gate that faced east. 43:2,4.