My life changed 6 weeks ago. It felt like I was going to lose my wife and son on the same day. As I sat by my three-day old son’s side in the Neonatal Intensive Care, I noticed an inscription on the wall by that great philosopher, Winnie the Pooh: ‘Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart’. The unintended irony of that statement dawned on me. I want my son and my wife to live. More than anything. Honestly, I wanted it even more than I wanted to see God’s glory through our suffering.
My wife had pre-eclampsia and stood the risk of getting fatal seizures during labour. We had no choice but to induce. Later the same day she was in labour but her blood pressure was rising so much that baby’s heart flat lined. I can’t describe the fear. Her blood pressure normalised moments later and so did baby’s heart beat. A few hours later just when I thought we were home free her placenta detached. Baby was born limp. She lost lots of blood. It sounded like someone was emptying a bucket of water over my feet. As her blood filled the floor they resuscitated our son. He started breathing. They gave him to us so that they could stop her bleeding. Then he started going limp again. He was choking. We would later discover that he has Pierre Robin Sequence. His jaw is underdeveloped, his tongue quite far back towards his throat and he has a cleft palate. So when they positioned him on his back he started choking on his tongue. At this point I wasn’t sure if either of them would make it.
I understand what Mary and Martha must have felt when they learnt that Jesus wasn’t coming to save their brother in John 11. When the message was delivered to Jesus that Lazarus was critically ill his response should challenge us to very core.
“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” John 11.4
Jesus allowed the death of someone’s brother for the glory of God? This commitment to God’s glory is throughout the Bible.
“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Isaiah 48.11
Mary and Martha must have spoken about this as they mourned their brother which explains why they have the exact same response to Jesus when he finally shows up.
“if you had been here, my brother would not have died” John 11.21,32
Jesus allowed this so that they would “believe” and so that he would be “glorified through it”. As New Testament scholar John Piper rightfully asks of these verses, ‘Is God for us or is God for himself?’ Do I really need the glory of God revealed to me at such a cost?
This ordeal has revealed something in my heart. I allow small things, not unimportant in themselves, but small in comparison to God to take his place in my heart. What Mary and Martha wanted, like me is the life and health of a loved one. What they needed, like me was a deeper appreciation of the ultimate Value; Jesus. After Jesus receives the news of Lazarus’ illness it reads “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (John 11.5-6). He loved them ‘so’ he decided to let their brother die. He did this to me because he loves me! The gospel writer makes this clear by repeating in one way or another that Jesus loved them (John 11.3,5, 36). Verse 33 is particularly telling “When Jesus saw her weeping… he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled”. Scholar D.A Carson interprets these words idiomatically as Jesus was ‘outraged and indignant’. Some scholars suggest as Carson does that Jesus was angered by the disbelief of those mourning Lazarus. They grieved as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4.13 ). But as I grieve I respectfully disagree with Carson here. Exegetically – why would Jesus see them cry, get angry and then cry himself (John 11.35)? Experientially – the pain of losing someone you love leaves us deeply moved, angry and sometimes indignant. And most importantly theologically – Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus so much that he let their brother die and ultimately gave his own life!
Jesus died to restore our relationship with God. Is God for us or against us? Is he for his glory or our good? Answer – both. We need God more than we know. And Jesus allows suffering to run its course to restore us to God. To the seeker this may sound foolish, but to the believer, this is a known reality. My wife is on the mend and my son has survived. We’re not home safe yet. In this life we never are. There were other babies I came to love in the NICU that did not leave with their parents. I don’t pretend to understand suffering. But what I do know is that God is good. He is love. And he is far wiser than we know. So the suffering you are going through will turn out for God’s glory in ways you can’t fathom now. It will be for your good. You can be sure of this because He loves you so much that he didn’t only let you suffer, he suffered the ultimate suffering at the Cross. Don’t waste your pain with doubt and disillusionment. The Hand that appears to be against you is for you and the trial that appears to be emptying you is filling your heart with big things, glorious things.