Christina Fox received her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey Through the Psalms of Lament (Christian Focus, 2016). You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and www.Facebook.com/
As believers, we are quick to say that God is love. We teach our children the song, Jesus Loves Me, at an early age. We share with others all the ways God has loved us, recounting answered prayers. We often talk about the ways Jesus reached out to sinners in Scripture and how he dined with the outcasts and healed those who were counted as the least of these.
It is true that God is love and that he is kind and generous and giving and patient with us. In fact, his love for us is more than we can imagine or put into words. But sometimes his love for us looks different than what we expect. Sometimes his love might not be seen as love at all. But it is this kind of love that that we must learn to recognize, appreciate, and even give thanks for. For this kind of love is a love that gives us what we need most of all.
In John 11, Jesus receives word that his dear friend Lazarus is sick.
"So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “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.”
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 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”...he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” (John 11:3-7, 11)
This passage tells us that because Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, he stayed two days longer instead of coming right away to heal Lazarus. It was out of his love for them that he waited. And because he waited, Lazarus died. Verse 4 tells us that Lazarus died "for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. "
John Calvin wrote this about this passage:
These two things appear to be inconsistent with each other, that Christ remains two days beyond the Jordan, as if he did not care about the life of Lazarus, and yet the Evangelist says, that Christ loved him and his sisters; for, since love produces anxiety, he ought to have hastened immediately. As Christ is the only mirror of the grace of God, we are taught by this delay on his part, that we ought not to judge of the love of God from the condition which we see before our eyes. When we have prayed to him, he often delays his assistance, either that he may increase still more our ardor in prayer, or that he may exercise our patience, and, at the same time, accustom us to obedience. Let believers then implore the assistance of God, but let them also learn to suspend their desires, if he does not stretch out his hand for their assistance as soon as they may think that necessity requires; for, whatever may be his delay, he never sleeps, and never forgets his people. Yet let us also be fully assured that he wishes all whom he loves to be saved." (Complete Commentaries, Kindle edition, Location 401146)
God's love for us doesn't mean that he will always give us what we want when we ask for it. He might even respond in silence. He might not bring healing, provide us the job we want, or make our greatest dream come true. But he always gives us just what we need. As the Gospel Transformation Bible puts it regarding this passage, "The gospel is a story of our God doing all things well, not all things easily. His name is Abba Father, but this does not mean that he leads his children in a life of complacent ease and comfort" (Kindle edition, Location 227289).
What Lazarus needed more than physical healing and what Martha and Mary needed more than for their brother to be healed was for them to see the glory of Christ. They needed to see that Jesus was more than a friend who could miraculously heal. They needed to see that he was God made flesh, the Maker, Creator, and Sustainer of all things. They and all the mourners gathered that day needed to see that even death itself is under his command. They needed to see the wonder of his glory.
When we are confused by God's love for us, when he doesn't answer our prayers or when life is really hard and he doesn't make it all better, he doesn't cease to be a God of love. Rather, we need to remember that his love is not like our love. God's love goes deeper. It sees farther. It desires our complete transformation, from the inside out. It is a love that will go to any lengths necessary to redeem and restore us to who we were made to be.
Keep praying. Don't let God's silence or delay cause you stop praying. But know that God has not fallen asleep or forgotten you. He loves you deeply. He will finish what he started in you. He will give you what you need most of all. And you will see his glory.