Experiences of trauma can make it difficult to be confident: is Jesus safe to allow in?

We have been looking at the story of Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Jesus, and to remind ourselves of Lazarus’s perspective: he believed Jesus could heal him. He counted Jesus as a friend. His family had asked Jesus to come and help. Yet Jesus did not arrive, and Lazarus died waiting for him.

This story is easy for us: we know how things turned out. But what we don’t know is how things are going to work out in our own lives, or the lives of those we care about, and so our situations might be very similar to Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’s. Does God care?

The spoiler we have is we are told Jesus did love this family.1 It’s clear he was talking to his father about them, but that there were reasons he could not come in time. Although God is all-powerful, we know he has ethics that affect how he uses his power. It is clear in scripture and from experience that violating a person’s will – forcing them to behave a certain way – goes against those ethics. So in this story, when there was danger on the road, we don’t see God just removing the source. He, and Jesus, worked the danger into their plans.

What does that mean by the time we get to the tomb?

It means God cared. Despite appearances, God cared. The whole time. And he sent Jesus, at the right time, into this tragedy, furiously, to do something about it.

Jesus says, out loud to his father,

“I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”2

 

God sent Jesus – but for what?

“That you sent me.”

Our easiest interpretation is to read our perspective back into this statement and assume Jesus is referring to the cross. True: he was “sent for us”. I do, absolutely, believe this story points us to Jesus’ overarching mission. There is a whole world at stake. But it’s not at all the most obvious meaning for his listeners at the time – pre-cross. What would they have heard? This moment is for them:

God sent Jesus to Bethany with the express intention of raising Lazarus from the dead.

That is: both Jesus and his father were present with this tragedy the whole time.

There is a word that comes up in the story here: “deeply moved”.3 There is an edge of anger to it. I have a friend who suggests it is anger at death. That rings true. Perhaps it’s anger at the situation – the tragedy, the pain, the fact that life was never intended to be like this. Perhaps at whatever led to the necessity of delay, or at those dangerous people. Whatever. There is a kind of fury that can come with deep empathy for the suffering of others – not a bad fury. It can drive us to loving action.

Jesus cared deeply about their suffering. He was angry. Perhaps furious. He pleaded to his Father on their behalf and found a very willing listener.

It is fine for us to be furious at evil. It’s more than fine. To stand with those who suffer. There is a favourite verse of mine:

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them.”4

We are called to be tangible evidence of God’s love to each other. There is evil in the world, and we are not its friend.

 

Is Jesus safe to allow in?

Not all “friends” are safe. Proverbs says,

“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”5

It seems to be a tricky verse to translate well. But in the context of abuse, my understanding is: Some people want to be classed as friends, but they mean us harm.

Jesus is different. So different. Honestly, I often wish he was physically, tangibly, sitting right next to me. Like a brother. But the story of Lazarus reminds me he cares more than I think he does. Way more than I fear he does. It took longer than hoped to see him act, and in that waiting can be pain beyond belief. But in the tortured mix of false “friends” and true, he is closer and safer than them all.

This story is an introduction. One of the most moving, beautiful names for God, to me, is the “Paraclete”. But we don’t know the spirit of the Paraclete if we don’t know the spirit of Jesus. And in living with trauma, I believe we can safely accept the guidance of Thomas, of Lazarus, of Mary, and Martha, that Jesus is safe to allow in.

Steve Wade

God cared about the death of Lazarus. Despite appearances, God cared. The whole time. And he sent Jesus, at the right time, into this tragedy, furiously, to do something about it. Share on X

 

Footnotes

  1. John 11:5
  2. John 11:41-42
  3. John 11:38; Two English words, but a single Greek word: embrimaomai
  4. Hebrews 13:3
  5. Proverbs 18:24

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