If God can, then why doesn’t He?
Recently I have started reading Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. He begins his book with this thought:
“This is not a work of scholarship…I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself….I write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties I have met, or lights I have gained…with the hope that this might rate interest, and sometimes even help, other inexpert readers.” I write this with the same thought in mind. These are the thoughts I have gleaned from my personal spiritual meditations.
After my realization that I need to spiritually prepare, I began to scour the Gospels for examples of Christ’s healing. I hoped I could gain understanding and insight into the following questions:
Under what circumstances did Jesus heal?
What specifically happened before and after healing–as in,
was Christ’s touch necessary?
did the petitioner say or do a certain thing before-hand?
when did the healing occur within the context of Christ’s ministry?
what effects did the healing have on Christ’s ministry?
It is only in hindsight that I am asking these questions. I didn’t go into the study with those questions in mind. Instead, as I took notes over the miracle, I started to group the details of the miracles based on those questions, if that makes any sense. I started reading the Gospels with the hope that the Holy Spirit would guide me to some insight.
To be 100% transparent and honest, there might have been a tiny part of me that wanted to harness the power to heal by doing something to merit His healing touch. Yes, yes, I know this is not how it works. I know that when and how God chooses to heal is purely “out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me,” but my sinful, limited, human brain still hoped to find the holy grail of healing, nonetheless.
On May 1, I read the Lazarus miracle in John 11. Immediately I was struck by the differences between this example of healing and others I had read. Today is May 25, and since then I been meditating and reflecting on it.
In fact, something really cool happened this morning. As I have posted about before in “Zombie,” Fridays are really difficult to me. I woke up this morning feeling dead inside. Exhausted, listless, defeated. I had zero energy, and all I wanted to do was lie down with my head wedged between two pillows. Instead, I took a shower, hoping it would spark some motivation within me, and while I was washing my hair, a million things started to occur to me about the Lazarus miracle. I went from feeling like a zombie to feeling compelled to get all of this out. I have to write about it.
Let me begin with a personal anecdote. I promise it is related.
My kids are both climbers. David climbed out of his crib at 15 months old; Hannah at 16 months old. Anything they can climb, they will climb. We thought David was bad about it, but that was before we really knew Hannah. In typical Hannah fashion, she is a much more determined climber than her brother. With David, she has an “anything you can do, I can do better” attitude, so of course she has to “one up” him in the climbing department. The difference is David listens to us when we say no. He is the dutiful first born to a T; he strives to please and make us proud, and that includes listening to us…most of the time. Hannah doesn’t have any such desires. What Hannah wants to do, Hannah does. End of story.
Pam has a couple of awesome live oaks in her back yard. They are massive and sprawling, and completely perfect for climbing. We are frequently over at Pam’s house, and recently Hannah and David have gotten it into their heads that they simply MUST climb these trees. David is THREE. Hannah is almost TWO. They SHOULDN’T be climbing ANY trees, much less massive, 200-year-old live oaks.
Try telling that to Hannah. She is indefatigable. When we were over in Pam’s yard recently, all of her mental, physical, and emotional energy was directed at forcing us to let her climb the tree. We couldn’t distract her or convince her otherwise. For HOURS, she begged, pleaded, kicked, and screamed. Before I knew it, my children were IN THE TREE. My mom and Pam put them on the lowest branch, hoping it would get it out of their heads.
David understood. Of course he can’t climb the huge tree. It is dangerous. But Hannah? Yeah, RIGHT. She got this spark in her eyes that only said HIGHER. She immediately tried to scurry up the trunk to the next level. Thankfully, my mom was holding her leg. Hannah yelled, “UP! CLIMB!” All of us resoundingly said, “NO!” The whole ordeal ended with us dragging an inconsolable Hannah out of the tree, away from Pam’s house. Apparently we can’t be around trees. Thanks, Hannah.
To Hannah’s 23-month-old mind, it is completely reasonable to allow her to climb anything she wants: trees, walls, fences. Anything that can be climbed simply should be. Is it wise for her to do so? NO. She begged us to allow her to climb, and we said, “No.” She bitterly resented us and threw a massive fit at the injustice of it all. How could we be so cruel and unreasonable as to crush her hopes and dreams like this?
How like Hannah am I when I consider my prayerful petitions to God? I want Daniel to be healed NOW. I am a 30-year-old woman telling the infinitely wise, ageless creator of the universe how things should play out. The omnipotent being who created the world, who knows human beings and our proclivities better than any other, the One who knits us together in our mother’s womb, should listen to ME. Obviously.
If God can heal now, then why doesn’t He?
Let’s consider the temptation of Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4. Each time Jesus is tempted by the devil, He relies on God’s word to guide him. When Satan tells him to “command these stones to become loaves of bread,” Jesus replies, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” When Satan says, “if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” from the pinnacle of the temple,” and Jesus replies, “Again it is written, you shall not put your God to the test.” Lastly, when Satan shows Jesus the “kingdoms of the world and all their glory” and promises to make Jesus ruler of it all, Jesus says, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
Jesus was able to do all the things Satan tempted him to do. Instead of demonstrating his divine ability to turn stones to bread, to be borne on wings of angels after jumping from the temple, and to be earthly ruler of the world, Jesus relies on God’s words to guide His actions in all things.
In John 11, Jesus’s friend Lazarus is ill. His sisters Mary, who would later anoint Jesus with ointment and wipe his feet with her hair, and Martha sent to Jesus, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were dear friends of Jesus, and are mentioned in the Gospels multiple times.
Instead of immediately healing Lazarus, Jesus takes several days to get to their home. By the time He reaches them, “Lazarus had already been dead four days” (verse 17).
Why did Jesus wait when He was obviously ABLE to heal Lazarus immediately? We see in Matthew 8:5-13, that Jesus is able to send word and immediately heal. When the Centurion comes to Jesus and asks Jesus to heal his servant, the centurion says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus replies, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith….Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”
So why didn’t Jesus send word and heal Lazarus immediately? Mary and Martha are not a random centurion. They are ones Jesus loves, His devoted followers. Not only does Jesus not immediately rush to their aid, it says in verses 5 and 6: “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.”
After staying two more days, Jesus tells his disciples He is planning on returning to Judea again. They are incredulous, and say, “Rabbi, the Jews are seeking to stone you, and you are going there again?”
Multiple times in the Gospels, Jesus commands those He heals, “See that no one knows about this.” He directly tells the blind men (Matthew 9), the man with leprosy (Mark 1), and many more to NOT tell of his miracle.
Contrast this to His actions with Lazarus. After receiving Martha’s note, Jesus says, “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.” He tells his disciples after warning, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” Clearly, this is not going to be a time like the others. After three years of preaching, healing, and performing miracles, Jesus plans to personally go and raise his dead friend back to life. He plans to do this in a place where there are men in power actively trying to kill him. “All for the glory of God”? His disciples must have been confused.
When Jesus finally shows up in Bethany, Martha goes to meet Jesus on the road. If it were me, I think I would be pretty upset. If I had watched Jesus heal dozens of people, if I had been a first-hand witness to the power Jesus wielded, and he not only didn’t come heal my brother but took DAYS to get there, I would be miffed, to say the least. Instead Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus replies, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes shall never die. Do you believe this?” Martha replies, “Yes, Lord; I believe…”
Martha then calls her sister Mary to Jesus. Like Martha, Mary says, “‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus sees her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled…Jesus wept.”
Jesus already knows he plans to raise Lazarus from the dead in front of many witnesses for the glory of God. He also knows that Lazarus, as a believer, is in heaven. But he still weeps? He loves these people. He hates to see them grieve. He weeps with them, feeling and understanding their pain. When we mourn, we have a savior who is true God and true man, who understands our emotions and feels with us in our grief, while simultaneously knowing the end result, the way God’s plan will unfold. For me, that is incredibly comforting.
Jesus then goes to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. When he commands someone to roll away the stone, Martha says to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Some thoughts–
Martha has already expressed her belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who is able to heal. Jesus has told her that He is the “resurrection and the Life.” Yet, she still cautions him about the smell?
Is she simply concerned that all the people around will smell the decaying body?
Does she, like us, believe that Jesus can, but that he might be speaking in parables and doesn’t LITERALLY plan to raise Lazarus?
Jesus’s response next suggests, to me, the last question. He says to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Almost as if to say, “Martha, I literally just told you I was the resurrection and the life. What did you think I meant??” I think Martha had faith that Jesus could heal her brother, even while dead, but still didn’t understand that he was actually going to heal him. It is a “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” situation.
What happens next sheds light on the question I asked earlier– why didn’t Jesus heal Lazarus immediately? Why didn’t he just send word, and poof!
When Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb, the Jews ” who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him” (v. 45). The Pharisees get word of this, and immediately make plans to put Jesus to death.
This all happens immediately before Passover, the Passover when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, put on trial, and crucified. The large crowd that cries, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” were those who “had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead….The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign” (v. 17-18).
By waiting for Lazarus to die before healing him, Jesus demonstrated His power and glory to many witnesses, people who ran and told others of what they had seen, who worshipped him when he entered Jerusalem.
Imagine if Martha would have bitterly wept and cursed Jesus when he didn’t heal Lazarus immediately. Think of all the people whose lives were transformed by seeing this miracle! Jesus literally raises Lazarus from the dead about a week before He Himself would rise from the dead.
If God can heal now, then why doesn’t He?
Because, regardless of whether the Lord chooses to literally heal Daniel’s heart, He has already healed Daniel. And you. And me. I am so incredibly thankful for the “peace, which surpasses understanding” (Phil. 4:7) we have all received through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Because, God has a plan for Daniel and for our family. It may not look like MY plan. Like Hannah and the tree, I want God to form a left ventricle for Daniel’s heart. I want him to be healed according to MY plan, NOW. But who knows how God plans to use our experience with HLHS to His glory?
For now, I fervently pray–
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long” (Ps. 25:4-5)