For the glory of God

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Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and Divine Agendas

The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is striking on many levels, but as I have pondered it recently, I have been wrestling with the idea that Lazarus had to die and the women had to mourn “for the glory of God.”

In the story, we are told that Jesus purposefully delays his return to Jerusalem. When Lazarus falls ill, Jesus is sent for, but he doesn’t come. The author of John makes it very clear that Jesus knows what will happen if he doesn’t go immediately to his friend.

When Jesus heard that [Lazarus was sick], he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby ….

Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.

And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe(John 11: 4, 14-15)

According to John’s gospel, Jesus had a bigger plan. Despite the fact that it would cause his dear friends Mary and Martha (not to mention Lazarus!) very real pain in the present, he withheld his healing power so that God’s glory would be magnified.

That to me is a huge problem. Let me illustrate with a personal example.

My wife and I have lived with the dull ache that is infertility for almost 10 years now. As a consequence of not being able to have children by traditional means, we have been foster parents for the last 3 years or so, and very recently we were able to adopt a little boy who has lived with us for most of that period. Our son is the best thing that has ever happened to us, and it was an incredibly special day for us and our extended family to gather in the temple and be sealed together.

The sealer (my wife’s grandfather) was familiar with the situation and the lengthy process that led up to the adoption. In his preambulatory remarks, he expressed his belief that God had a hand in bringing our little boy into our lives. This is a sweet sentiment and many, many others have made similar comments to us, but every time I hear a version of this “providence” argument, it makes me cringe a little. Actually, it is more than cringe. I can’t help but want to scream: “IF GOD WANTED THIS, WHY THE HELL DIDN’T HE DO IT DIFFERENTLY?!”

God knows we prayed for some tiny shred of divine intervention earlier in the process. Why would God need for my little boy to be born an addict to a young mother who was overwhelmed by the world? Why would he need for an innocent child to be neglected to the point that he was removed from the only people he’d ever known and loved? Why not just intercede a little earlier? Why not spare us all the pain? So that we might “believe”? So that he might be “glorified”? If that is the “glory of God,” count me out.

… alright, rant over.

 

Jesus’ Tears

The most poignant part of this story for me is found in verse 35:

Jesus wept.

After seeing the pain that this whole object lesson in divine power has caused his friends, he weeps.

Part of me wants to think that these are tears of regret. I know there are times when I had a great idea for something that would be really memorable/funny/awesome in theory, but the execution didn’t come across quite right. I’ll always remember an amazing “dirt cake” (a birthday cake made with an Oreo crumb topping designed to look like dirt) that my stepmother made for my little sister’s birthday years and years ago. To top it all off, she put the whole thing into a ceramic flowerpot. My little sister was so excited for her birthday (she was probably turning 4 or 5), but her little heart was broken by that cake. When she saw the flowerpot she must have thought that we didn’t get her a cake after all, and big tears welled up in her eyes. The subsequent tantrum should have probably been anticipated, but my stepmother was trying to do her best.

That’s probably not what is going on when scripture says, “Jesus wept,” but sometimes I wish it were.

 

God’s Glory

The great poet, Langston Hughes, penned the following verses (titled simply, “God”):

I am God—
Without one friend,
Alone in my purity
World without end.

 

Below me young lovers
Tread the sweet ground—
But I am God—
I cannot come down.

 

Spring!
Life is love!
Love is life only!
Better to be human
Than God—and lonely.

 

The casual Son of God who seems to minimize his friends’ pain at the beginning of the story feels like the lonely and pure divinity described by Hughes, but it is the weeping Jesus who seems glorious to me.

 

The Raising of Lazarus by Fr Lawrence Lew, O. P. licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

2 Comments

  1. June 11, 2015    

    Thanks for the vulnerability shown in this post. It’s funny (in a very non-amusing way) how our insistence on maintaining a hunky dory, “faithful” narrative—whether it’s about the events in our own lives, those of our family and friends, church history, or what have you—actually require us to paint God as somewhat of a jerk. How do we remain so oblivious to the implications of what we’re saying half the time? I definitely prefer the God who weeps.

    • Brad Jones's Gravatar Brad Jones
      June 12, 2015    

      Thanks, Benjamin.

      I like what you said about not wanting to make God into a jerk. The more I think about the Lazarus story (and some of the other Jesus stories we have), the more I like the idea that the “condescension of God” was both so that we could learn about god and he could learn about us.

      There is an old Christian heresy called “Marcionism” that holds that Jesus was the true “good” god sent to liberate the people from a mean and vindictive Jehovah. Marcionites tried to square the radical differences they saw in the god of the Hebrew bible and the god that Jesus seems to talk about.

      But what if Jesus and Jehovah were the same guy (as Mormons believe) and he just had a lot to learn about what it meant to be human? He is wrathful and petty and sometimes outright cruel before his embodiment simply because he doesn’t understand why we act the way we do. After the incarnation, he mellows out.

      I don’t really believe that literally, but I do love the idea that god is in the process of becoming, and that salvation is a joint project. We depend on the gods and they depend on us.

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