When tragedy happens, it is common to hear people ask the question, “Where was God?” One common response is, “God could not stop it because He was not powerful enough.” This response denies God’s omnipotence – His absolute power. Another common response is, “God let it happen because he is not loving.” The response is correct, but the conclusion is not. When a tragedy happens, God did lets it happen because He is loving.
To prove this conclusion, let’s look at the death of Lazarus in John 11:1-44. This story is well-known because of Jesus’ compassion for His friends and for raising Lazarus from the dead. In this article, we will focus on the first section of the story in verses 1-16.
In the beginning of the chapter, we are told that Mary and Martha sent for Jesus because their brother Lazarus was sick. When we get to verses 5-6, we notice something very interesting: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when [Jesus] heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Did you notice that? Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus and he was sick to the point of death? So because of His love, Jesus stayed and waited two days before going to see them.
The key word in verse 6 is “so”. Depending on your translation, it might not say “yet” or “but” instead of “so”. Scholars who understand the original text assures us that “so” is the correct translation. I believe so is the correct word to use in this verse.
This is important because the word “so” is a conjunction that shows the reason why something was done, like the word, “therefore”. For example: “I was hungry, so I ate a hamburger.” In this case, eating a hamburger is a logical reaction to being hungry. Another way to say it would be to say, “Because I was hungry, I ate a hamburger.” In Jesus’ case, “Because He loved Lazarus, He waited two days before going to see him, knowing he would die and his sisters – whom he also loved – would mourn.”
I would expect the text to say, “So when Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, He immediately rushed to Bethany to heal him.” This is not intuitive at all. Because God loves His people, He allowed four planes to crash and kill unknown numbers of believers. Because God loves His people, He allowed a tsunami to kill over 400,000 people, including unknown number of believers.
How is this love?
The answer is given in John 11 verse 4, “But when Jesus heard [Lazarus’ illness], 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.’” We know how the story ends in verses 43-44 when Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out!”, and the man who was dead came out of the tomb. The sorrow Mary and Martha had was gone. Further proof of Jesus’ divinity and evidence of His power over death was clear for all to see.
John Piper explains, “seeing the glory of God is a more precious gift than being sick or even dead,” and giving someone a precious gift such as that is a very loving action.
But what about the tragedies that God does not explain to us? We will not always know the details of how a particular tragedy can be a loving act of God (Deuteronomy 29:29), but we can take great comfort that God has promised us that He is always in control and for His people, “all things do work for the good for those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). When we go through tragedies, it is helpful to remember like with Lazarus, Jesus mourns with us and understands our grief (John 11:35, Hebrews 4:15). God does not want us to brush our pain under the rug in the midst of tragedy like it does not exist. He wants us to rest in His arms, trusting what He allowed to happen glorifies Him and is loving.
God’s love does not always make sense to us, but if we focus on the truth that God is all powerful and all loving, we can rest assured that whatever God has allowed to happen is the most loving thing that could have happened.