Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
At the beginning of John 11 when he heard Lazarus was sick, Jesus said, “This sickness is for God’s glory.”
Do you think Jesus was stating a general rule? That the purpose of human sickness is to give glory to God? In John 5, a paralyzed man suffered 38 years until Jesus healed him. In John 8, a blind man suffered his whole life until Jesus healed him. Now in John 11, Lazarus got sick and died, until Jesus raised him. Can you explain God’s glory in all that suffering, or is Jesus’ lesson too hard? Perhaps God only gets glory when Jesus heals someone. If so, God is missing out on a lot of glory!
Kate Bowler in her book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved (New York: Random House, 2018) describes her journey with Stage IV cancer and the prosperity gospel and faith. She often sounds like the psalms, ranting at God for life’s unfairness, angry with her enemy cancer, unhappy with comforters who spout unhelpful platitudes.
Facing death and grieving that she wouldn’t see her baby son grow up, she tells this story:
When I was in the hospital, a neighbor told my husband that everything happens for a reason. “I’d love to hear it,” he replied.
“Pardon?” she said, startled.
“I’d love to hear the reason my wife is dying,” he said in his sweet and sour way, effectively ending the conversation. The neighbor stammered something and handed him a casserole. (Bowler, pp. 112-113).
Bowler continues, commenting on the “reasons” people give why she might be suffering. She says,
There are three life lessons people try to teach me that, frankly, sometimes feel worse than cancer itself. The first is that I shouldn’t be so upset, because the significance of death is relative. A lot of Christians tell me that heaven is my true home and I want to ask them if they would like to go home first. Maybe now? (Bowler, p. 116).
The second lesson comes from the Teachers, who focus on how this experience is supposed to be an education in mind, body, and spirit. (Bowler, p. 117). One man bluntly writes, “I hope you have a ‘Job’ experience.” But I can’t think of anything worse to wish on someone. God allowed Satan to rob Job of everything, including his children’s lives. Do I need to lose something more to learn God’s character? (Bowler, p. 118).
Bowler says the third lesson comes from the Solutions People, who are already a little disappointed that she is not saving herself. “Keep smiling! Your attitude determines your destiny!” says Jane from Idaho, and I am immediately worn out by the tyranny of prescriptive joy. (Bowler, p. 119). A Nigerian woman writes that she sits through weekly meetings that encourage her to “talk faith-talk,” but she wants to acknowledge that, outside her office window, the bodies of abandoned babies are being collected and hauled away in black garbage bags (Bowler, p. 119).
The letters that really speak to me don’t talk about why we die, they talk about who was there when they were dying. A man wrote to me about being taken hostage with his family and watching helplessly as the intruders pressed guns against his children’s noses and threaten to rape his wife and daughter. But God was there and he can’t explain it. He can’t explain who loosened the ropes, letting him escape with his family. He will never understand why he survived when a neighbor was found outside hanging by a rope the next morning. He doesn’t rationalize why some people were rescued and others were executed. He doubts there is a way that God “redeems” situations by extracting good from them. But he knows God was there because he felt peace, indescribable peace, and it changed him forever. He ends his letter to Bowler saying, “I have no idea how this works, but I wish this for you as you move forward.” (Bowler, p. 120).
Jesus, I can’t begin to John’s theme that you get glory from human suffering–from Kate Bowler with Stage IV cancer, from Job who lost everything, from dead Nigerian babies, from a hostage who escaped and one who didn’t. Jesus, we bring our sufferings to you, not trying to explain them, not trying to understand how they might contribute to your glory. Instead, we ask you to be present with us, to share your life with us, to live your life in us, to walk with us through this endless valley.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.