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Where is God when tragedy strikes

November 29, 2022 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Posted in: Death

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading the memorial service for Elizabeth Wong, mother of Alan Wong, mother-in-law of Evelyn, and grandmother of Tyler, Christian and Kaylee, who are all a part of our church. In moments like this, the two passages I am most often drawn to are Ecclesiastes 7:2, which reads “It is better to go to a house of mourning that to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart,” and the story of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus in John 11. The Ecclesiastes verse reminds us that as painful as it is to be at a funeral, it can have a profound perspective-altering effect if we will pay attention. It is very natural at funerals for your mind to wonder what it will be like when your loved ones die, or who will gather when you die, and what they will say about you. In this way, funerals can sharpen your focus on what truly matters, and cause you to evaluate whether you are living your life in alignment with those fundamental values.

I also think of John 11 when I am face-to-face with death. In that story, Lazarus has died, and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, approach Jesus independently but voice the same heartbreaking statement: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They know that Jesus has the power to heal, and yet he has let their brother die, and they do not understand why. What an honest and relatable sentiment for those of us who have ever wondered why God did not intervene and heal a loved one when he certainly had the power to do so.

Jesus responds to the sisters in two different ways, and his responses help answer the question of where God is when tragedy strikes. With Mary, he asks her to take her to Lazarus’ tomb, and as he sees the tears of Mary and the others who are gathered, Jesus weeps alongside them. In fact, the Greek word translated as “wept” has the connotation of angry weeping. This is because death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26), an evil intruder into God’s good world, and Jesus weeps at the pain that it causes those who are left behind, for it was never meant to be this way. Knowing that our God weeps alongside us when our hearts are broken, and that it is okay for us to mourn when we lose a loved one, can be a very affirming and comforting truth.

But thankfully, weeping with us is not the only thing that Jesus does. When Martha comes to Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Jesus tells her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:35-36). And then, to prove that He has the power over death, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

If all we had was a God who weeps alongside us at the tragedy of death, but could do nothing about it, we would still be lost, without hope. But Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the one who died and rose from the grave, and declares that all who live and believe in him will never die but will have eternal life. And because of this, we can still grieve, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Jesus is not only the God who weeps alongside of us, but is the one who has overcome the grave and has transformed death from an event to be feared into the entrance into life to the fullest. As D.L. Moody put it: “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead.  Don’t believe it for a moment.  I will be more alive than ever before.”

 

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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