One of the core philosophical differences between biblical counseling and other approaches is the concept that God is willing to put people in the path of pain (or is unwilling to take people out of pain) for their good and His glory. This is a hard truth.
None of us like to see people in pain, especially those who by profession or ministry are in the business of caring for souls. While God does not enjoy seeing His children in pain, He is willing to allow pain to serve as His correction rod. Often it is pain, and only pain that will get our attention. As C. S. Lewis states, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain).
Lazarus’ story is only told in the fourth Gospel. It is the final of seven Johannine signs establishing that Jesus is the Messiah. This sign is also one of the “I am” statements where Jesus professes His deity when He declares, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25a).
There is something profoundly intriguing in this story. The first several verses introduce the players in this drama: Lazarus and his two sisters—Mary and Martha. Lazarus is sick… very sick and about to die. Jesus’ first recorded words in this story give the reader a clue to the unfolding mystery that will be His delayed coming. In verse four, when Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, “He says, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it’” (John 11:4, NKJV). How is this sickness going to glorify the Father and the Son?
In verse five, John mentions that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5, NKJV). Each person is listed, each one drawn out to add emphasis that Jesus loved all three of these people. Then, what comes next is deeply shocking. It is not what you would expect to read next. “So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was” (John 11:6, NKJV). What?! Two MORE days? What is going on here?
Jesus purposely delays His coming to heal Lazarus’ sickness, therefore, allowing him to die. He allowed him to die and He allowed both the sisters to painfully watch their dear brother breathe his last breath. Can you take that in? Jesus allows pain to enter into the lives of Mary and Martha when there is no doubt that He could have stopped Lazarus from dying.
Do we not have similar questions? Don’t we ask God when pain enters our lives why He allows it? You have been there. I have been there. In this case, Jesus is there and chooses to delay His coming. He is not right on time; He is late.
Fortunately, for us the text gives us the answer as to why Jesus delayed His coming. It is back in verse four. I appreciate the way author Andreas J. Köstenberger states it in his commentary on John, “What defies human reasoning is upheld when the glory of God is the driving motivation and the sovereignty of God is the guiding force.”
We can’t always know specific details in how human suffering brings glory to the Son and to the Father. In this case, it was in raising Lazarus from the dead. Unfortunately, Martha, Mary and Lazarus did not know this was coming. In fact, what is further remarkably profound is that Jesus comforts Mary not by telling her that He is going to raise her brother from the dead, but by weeping with her (John 11:35). We often think that answers bring comfort; Jesus’ choice was being human with her.
Another Profound Example
Let’s consider one more example of God’s delayed intervention that allows intentional pain into the life of those that He loves. It is one of the most profound verses in the entire Bible. Romans 8:32 states, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (NKJV). God certainly could have stopped the pain inflicted upon His Son. Jesus could have called for “more than twelve legions of angels,” but instead He freely gave His life (Matthew 26:53).
These truths should cause our faith to soar on eagles wings even in the midst of suffering and pain. Some would believe that God glorifies Himself by somehow making sport of His people. However, nothing could be further from the truth. God’s glory and your good are the same thing. He loves you, the same way that He loved Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Jesus.
Join the Conversation
How might this truth of “intentional pain” impact you as you experience pain and suffering in your life, or as you minister to others who are suffering?