Lent 5: Why bad things happen
Why does bad things happen to good people? Why do people have to suffer? Why does there seem to be evil in the world that we can do nothing about?
Its a classic question that has kept philosophers and theologians awake at night for centuries. They have attempted to look at it academically through logic and reason. Whilst lots of suggestions have been put forward nothing really has sounded plausible.
Of course, its not a problem only for those of us who believe in God. Every person, of every faith or none have to come to terms with what it all means.
You would think the atheist would have the easiest ride. After all, if there is no God - nothing that created and governs this world then everything is random. There is no real meaning and purpose to life other than what we put on it ourselves. But the trouble is that even the harshest atheist would have be brave to declare that in the face of loss that it has no meaning …. we intrinsically know deep inside us that there is more to life than a random sequence of atoms. That the world is beautifully ordered.
We don’t have time to consider other religions but what about us Christians? How do we explain suffering and death? If God is all loving and all powerful why can’t he stop it? Find better way?
Well of course theologians have been kept awake over that one and we don’t know. But one thing we would all agree that is not random. For some reason suffering and death must exist in our world. And I could dedicate a a whole sermon unpacking why that might be - given that theologians have suggested all manner of reasons over the centuries.
And the added problem is that this is not an academic subject. Its not something can study dispationatly from afar. All of us have known, or know someone who is suffering unjustly. We have all lost somebody at one time and probably shaken our fist and God and said WHY ME?
The palsms contain beautiful examples of people doing just that.
But what we really need is to know how Jesus himself reacts to death, how he sees it. Because after all, if we want to know more about God then we just need to look at Jesus.
Well, we have it. And one of the examples we have was here in our gospel reading. it misses the whole story, but I won’t!
He is laying low outside of Jerusalem when he gets a message from the sisters Mary and Martha
'Lord the one you love is sick'
Mary is the one who poured perfume on the lord we are told. She believes in him, knows he has the power of God.
One problem though - the sisters live in Bethany , a few miles south east of Jerusalem . Jesus has withdrawn from the area because it has become dangerous for him to be anywhere near the city.
But Jesus does not rush out to help his friend - He deliberately stays where he is for two days, confidently asserting that the sickness will not be fateful.
Now we don’t know why. Another question for theologians to lay awake at night!
Best guess we can offer is that he is Praying? Praying for lazarus. Praying for strength?
He delays for two days then It takes him four days to reach Bethany , and by the time he arrives Lararus has died.
They get there Lazarus body has been in the tomb for four days
His coming would have coincided with the conclusion of the first three days morning , when decomposition would have set in. Professional mourners would have done their job. It was most definitely all over.
Martha seems to rebuke Jesus, 'if you have been there my brother would not have died’
Jesus assures her - her brother will rise again
Martha says, yes I know he will rise again in the last days - thinking Jesus is just talking about vague future
Jesus says something inspiring and famous .. I AM the resurrection and the life.. Jesus is saying that she does not have to wait for the last days.. God has come to earth NOW and has the power to give life again. Power that will be revealed full now long from now. resurrection life is here now.
Mary Meets him with some of her friends. She too is angry, If Jesus had been here her brother would not have died
Note the confidence in Jesus ability - They were adamant that if Jesus had of been there he would have healed his brother.
What does Jesus do?
He is clearly moved . By this whole scene. By this weeping. He is overcome and weeps himself. Shortest verse in the bible is ‘Jesus wept’.
Shortest is the most important. For it gives us an idea of how God responds to human suffering.
He feels our pain, he lives our experiences. He weeps.
Vs 33 and 38 translate that Jesus was 'deeply moved’ But this does not do it justice. We can better explain this as anger! Outrage would be better.
Tears, outrage, anger. Jesus was faced with the grief of Mary and her friends. He was faced with their doubt that he was in control. Perhaps he was also thinking of his own death and what he would have to do.
He definitely sees death is a part of our fallen world, something that was never meant to happen.. an unnatural state to God that needed to be restored.
Perhaps In Mary’s grief he sees and feels the misery of the whole human race and burns with anger against death.
He who has come to abolish death once and for all when he reaches the cross just a short time from now.
So he approaches the tomb like a gladiator, ready to to battle against our ultimate adversary, death.
He commands it open.
Martha is horrified - no Jesus its going to be horrific , the smell etc - they can’t take anymore.
Jesus reminds her of his promise and orders them to take away the stone.
They take away the stone, Jesus takes a wiff - no bad odour.
And he prays thanks to God that he has already done what he probably prayed for for those two days before he left for Bethany. Lazarus does not smell, in fact he was not even dead.
When Jesus raised Jairus daughter in Mark he tells everyone to leave the room
This time is angry and grief stricken and in front of everyone He commands LAZARUS COME OUT !
And out he comes , bandages still wrapped around him
Shock, horror, relief
we don’t understand why death has to be part of our world, God hates suffering. God hates death. It's not the way it was supposed to be. He weeps with us every time us or a loved one has to suffer.
The message is clear : Death will not prevail, suffering will not be in vain. Because of Jesus we do not have to fear death.
Today is All Saints day , and we also have a reading from Revelation about another place, a different world where death and crying and pain is a thing of the past. We instinctively know there is more to life that what we can see and feel.
Its not a fantasy or wishful thinking. Gods Kingdom is close to us and we are all destined to become saints - part of Gods Kingdom having been made in the image of God. I would imagine what you may think Gods kingdom , heaven maybe like is largely fanciful, fuelled by Victorian images of clouds and Angels or perhaps a literal reading of Revelation. But in reality it will probably be nothing like that.
One thing we do know is this: We get to feel the full intensity of Gods love forever.
That puts our moral life here on earth into perspective.