It’s the question we all are all asking inside, when we are standing by a grave. Whether it is the resting place of a dream we were holding onto, or saying goodbye to a season of life, or the wrenching physical loss of someone we love. We are all wondering “Where is God?” Our minds can inform us of the fact of His presence, but what we really want to know is if He cares how we feel. Is He near when I need Him? Will He help me? And even when Faith steps up to proclaim the promise, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” (Romans 8:28), we can’t help but wonder how soon that good is going to surface.
God knows us to the core, and so He plays out a story for us– lets us see the two sisters Mary and Martha ask the same questions, as they watch their brother die and wrap him for burial, and Jesus still does not come to rescue them. They grieve and wonder about the One who said He loved them. But some productive wrestling can happen in the dark, when it is just your heart and those big questions, and by the time Jesus finally shows up the sisters are holding onto faith with all their might. Martha can say “…if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:21) We can hear her faint wild glimmer of hope that death may not be the end of the story, regardless of everything she understands. And Mary comes running when Jesus calls for her, not ashamed to bare her heart to Him because she trusts His love. We watch Mary and Martha and find the answers to our own questions in living color.
Where is God when we stand at a graveside? Does He really care how we feel? He listens to our hearts, enters into our story. He comes when we call, and stands beside us, weeping with our broken hearts.
Is He near when I need Him? Will He help me? He calls out and does the impossible right before our eyes. Relationships beyond hope get second chances. New opportunities rise out of dreams laid to rest. Comfort and peace lift up the aching heart. And Martha and Mary’s brother walks out of his tomb in front of the assembled mourners– a story none of them will likely forget. Jesus does not do what they want Him to do, or even what they could reasonably expect Him to do, and it is easy for us to get bogged down there in our own frustration and confusion. This is where our perspectives and emotions wrestle with faith, and we get to decide whether we will trust in what we can understand… or believe what God says. I am glad the sisters’ story tells us the “Why?” of it– God’s larger purpose at work in their story. “…it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (verse 4) But I see how their relationship with Jesus is what makes them trust that He knows best. They know Him and His love for them, even when they don’t understand what He does.
Jesus tells Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.” (verses 25-26) It is the answer to her questions– the message of her story that speaks to all of us if we will be still and listen. There could be no better answer to the graveside questions than this: Death is no longer the end we have always feared, because God has come to rescue us.
Here at the beginning of our preparation for Easter, we can understand how Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (verse 33). This is the crux of the matter, the very reason He has taken flesh and stepped down into our story. Jesus is facing our Curse, seeing it in all its strength and oppression; He is seeing it affect the people He loves and weeping for their sorrow; He is standing up in anger and doing something about it, because we can’t. This is only a skirmish, a foretaste, but the climax of the story is coming when Jesus will walk out of His own tomb and overcome Sin and Death once and for all. This is the larger purpose He is working out in the world, that stretches over all our smaller stories.
The question He asks of Martha (and any of us who stand by a grave) is ” Do you believe this?” (verse 26)
“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him….The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
“Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
Every fear is gone
I know He holds my life, my future, in His hands
I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives
Let my song join the one that never ends”
(Because He Lives– Amen, Matt Maher)