Why did Jesus Allow Lazarus to Suffer?

I am writing this morning from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Friday’s section of this week’s lesson asks, if God is in charge why do innocent people suffer?

The question reminded me of the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead that I recently read about in John 11:1-44. Let’s take a look at some of the points in this story that may help us answer this question.

When Jesus heard that, He said, “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

The good news for all of us is that even though Lazarus dies that is not how the story ends! Lazarus is resurrected. Dear friend if you have recently laid a loved one to rest be assured that is not how the story ends. Death is not the final chapter. The resurrection is. still, Jesus allowed one of his best friends to get sick and die. Why? Verse 4 tells us so that God would be glorified. Are you willing to get sick and even face death if it will give God glory? This reminds me of a sermon I heard a long time ago on Hebrews 11:35-38 which mentions people who were killed for their faith. The preacher said many say they have enough faith to be healed but do we have enough faith not to be healed? What if more people became converted through our death than our life? What if our sickness glorified God more than our health? This new year I realized God does not need me to make goals and plans. He needs me to make a total surrender. This new year I rededicated my life to Jesus and told Him I was totally surrendered to Him. He can take me and do with me as He pleases in 2021. He can promote me if that will glorify His name. He can also let me get sick and die if that will glorify his name. After all, by giving my life to Jesus I am only giving what I was not going to be able to keep anyways.

So Jesus allows Lazarus to get sick and die so it would glorify God. How so? Well this is why it was so important for Jesus to let him actually die and then not show up to the home till four days afterwards. Had Jesus forsaken Lazarus and his sisters by seeming so distant? Not at all! It was all part of a magnificent plan that would bring glory to God with a happy ending for all. Remember when Jesus healed the little girl in Mark 5:21-43? He said the girl was not dead but only asleep. Everyone laughed at Him. Of course Jesus calls death sleep since the dead person is going to be resurrected. However the Sadducees and Pharisees both loved to twist the words of Jesus. The Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection especially had something at stake in the miracle Jesus performed for this little girl. Jesus’ statement that the girl was not dead but asleep could have given the Sadducees opportunity to say that even Jesus admitted Himself that the girl was only asleep and had never actually died. Thus Jesus did not actually resurrect her. I believe this is very possible because even today people love twisting the words of prophecy and Scripture to their own destruction. I believe the Sadducees very well could have used that as an opportunity to twist Jesus’ words when He said she was not dead but only asleep.

If the Pharisees and Sadducees were able to twist Jesus’ own words (Incidentally I think this is why a colleague years ago told me to use as few words as possible when talking thus reducing the opportunity for my enemies to twist my words.) to discredit His miracle of raising the girl to life, thus making many people lose faith in God this could explain why Jesus allowed Lazarus to get sick and die. Not only die but by waiting four days there is no way anyone could say he was not actually dead but just literally sleeping as they insinuated with the girl. Obviously Jesus’ plan worked because the story says,

Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  John 11:45 NKJV

By allowing Lazarus to suffer and die millions who have faced death have been comforted with the hope of the resurrection. By allowing Lazarus to suffer and die millions have believed in Jesus as their Savior from sin and death. God wants us to prosper in heath and strength as we love and serve God with all of our health and strength. But if God could win more people to His kingdom by letting you suffer and die would you be okay with that?

The one who stands nearest to Christ will be he who has drunk most deeply of His spirit of self-sacrificing love,–love that “vaunteth not itself, . . . seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil,”–love that moves the disciple, as it moved our Lord, to give all, to live and labor and sacrifice even unto death, for the saving of humanity. –Ellen White, Conflict and Courage, Page 314.

Was Job Just a Guinea Pig?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Occasionally I hear people ask why God used Job for a guinea pig. Why did God allow Job to be tortured just for the sake of making a point to Satan? Was Job just a pawn in God and Satan’s chess game?

At first glance it may appear so, but let’s look a little closer. Fist of all it is said of God,

In all their suffering he also suffered, Isaiah 63:9 NLT

Whatever pain Job felt, God felt it too. While watching a documentary on the holocaust, I heard a woman talking about seeing a small child killed by a concentration camp officer. She said, when that happened, she stopped believing in God. If only she had understood that God was suffering with that poor child. No, that in and of itself does not answer all the questions as to why God allowed Job to suffer and the holocaust to happen, but it does tell me God is not using humanity or Job as a guinea pig or as pawns in some chess match with Satan, if He is suffering just as much as everyone else. I don’t have to have all the answers to trust God. If God allowed sin and suffering, knowing it would cost Him His own dear Son on the cross, then I know there must be a good reason.

Job’s friends came up with a quick answer to the problem of suffering. Surely Job brought this upon himself! For some reason we feel better about God allowing pain and suffering if we figure they somehow deserve it. When we do this we misunderstand the character of God. Fact is God does not want to see anyone suffer, even if they deserve it.

Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:23 NLT

So while we are prone to draw peace form knowing people deserved to suffer, or brought it upon themselves, the fact that they may deserve it is no consolation to God. He hurts just the same.

Even though Job’s friends might not have had the right attitude, Job did learn and grow through his suffering. While he maintains his innocence for the most part of the story, at the end, Job said,

I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance. Job 42:6 NLT

While Job’s friends may have been more than a little rough on him, Job did have some precious lessons to learn, and yes, some precious revelations of God’s grace that could only be found through suffering. Even though God bragged on Job in the first chapter, He did not imply that Job had “arrived.” Job still had some things to learn about himself, and his need for God’s righteousness. Theologians have been trying to answer the question for ages, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” In fact, they’ve come up with a fancy name for it – theodicy. 1 The question why bad things happen to good people is actually hypothetical, because, there are no good people for bad things to happen to!

No one does good, not a single one. Romans 3:12 NLT

Job grew throughout the story, and in his suffering became more intimate with his Redeemer.

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! Job 19:25-27 NLT

God did not allow Job to suffer like a guinea pig so God could prove a point to Satan. Job had to suffer to learn obedience just like Jesus did.

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. Hebrews 5:8 NLT

The suffering and obedience led both Jesus and Job into intimacy with the Father. Again, I do not know why. Maybe you do and can comment below. But for now it is enough for me to know that if Jesus had to suffer too, there must be a good reason. My theory is simply that anything that was proven to Satan was not the main event. Job’s character growth and intimacy with God was the main event. The things Job endured were not just to put on some show for the devil to see. They were to bring Job closer to God, and to realize joys and victories, and yes and intimacy with God, that could not have been realized any other way.

  1. Theodicy covers a little more ground than just the question of why good people suffer. It deals with the questions of God’s goodness in the presence of evil.
  2. You may study this week’s SS lesson here.