I generally share news of hopes that never came to fruition, of coping with such disappointments and the nature of our faith. Four weeks ago we were in Atlanta at the wake of one of our relatives. He had died of testicular cancer that could have been cured 2 years ago but it was misdiagnosed and now he had died after suffering a heart condition in response to the powerful chemo he went through.
Other issues- difficulties at my work and for my friends at work, our own health issues, several acquaintances suffering from cancer, the death of the relative I talked about earlier, their family's subsequent emotional breakdowns. Last week when another relative was diagnosed with brain tumour (glioma) after suffering a siezure, Alma came to my home office and wept, saying 'I don't know how much more bad news I can take.' We talked on this topic that night and came to the inescapable conclusion we had come to before many times: were it not for the hope of resurrection, life is simply not worth living.
Our relative's surgery was scheduled to be on June 2nd (Tuesday) so we flew to Ft Lauderdale and stayed at their house to ease the process. As we went there the doctors let us know that it was a low grade glioma, so we had some hope.
In the morning before the surgery I read through John 11, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. I shared this with the patiet's wife as well. I could put myself in the shoes of each of the doubters who questioned Jesus throughout this episode. Almost every word out of the mouths of the disciples, Martha and the Jewish frrieds of Mary and Martha are doubting comments. Let me illustrate how these doubters said almost the same things I did.
Verse 3: So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."
Vijai: Now what, Lord? You know he is sick.
Verse 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."
Vijai (in prayer): I know you do all things to conform to your will. I believe your will cannot be changed. We simply fit into it with our prayers. I know in some way you will demonstrate your glory whether the surgery is a success or not.
Verses 8 and 9 (the disciples): "But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light."
Vijai (reading this): Does this mean that when we are guided by God nothing bad will happen to us? Does it mean that if we guided by God, our being stoned or not stones depends entirely on his will; and his will is always good?
Verses 12-14 12His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
Alma to Vijai: Perhaps this is meant for the whole of the family (the majority of whom are unbelievers). I think a healing will result and it will shake up the family.
Verse 16: Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
Vijai (thinking): This is the verse I most identify with. It is easier to think of ourselves as dying with Jesus than living with Him. I'm so thankful that the Lord gave us these remarks and others from Thomas, who, also being Kerala's patron saint, has endeared himself to us. Sketpcism, doubt, questions with no answers- these sum up my response to Jesus. I believe that the Bible if 100 percent true- I just find it hard to apply it to my life situations. I also find it tough to interpret it correctly, especially when it comes to hoping for a healing from God.
Verse 21: "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
Vijai: Though I do not say the same thing (I know Jesus knows everything and is present everywhere, but I act like he doesn't and he isn't), my attitude is similar.
Verses 23 through 27: Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
Vijai: I do not know how to interpret Martha's thoughts. I tend to answer important questions in life on Jesus' behalf quite often, basing them on my understanding of theology. For instance, I prayed for Tommy for a healing but I always make room for a different result. This isn't like Jesus' prayer at the Garden, "Nevertheless, not my will, but your be done." I do not sweat drops of blood in asking for a miracle against incredible odds. Mine is the voice of doubt.
Verses 32 and 33: When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
Vijai: Jesus cares about our suffering. I'm convinced he doesn't let us go under the scalpel unless there is a special purpose for it. Under normal circumstances I think it is not the right response on our part to keep expecting the worst to happen and thereby hedge our bets.
Verse 35: Jesus wept.
Vijai: If this verse and others like it had been part of our church's Scripture memorization program I could have done it on my head. I'm not sure why Jesus wept when he knew that Lazarus was going to be raised. Did he weep because he saw that Lazarus' loved ones were grieving? Did he weep because of the mniracle about to happen. We often weep after a successful surgery. Were these tears of joy? John doesn't give us a clue.
Verses 36-37: Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Vijai: I rationalize it like this. I know God is all-powerful. I know God cares for us, even for our temporal well-being. I know Jesus never refused anyone who asked Him for healing, even ones who were not thankful to him, or people who did things he asked them not to do (like the man by the pool who told the priests about his healing). But I have seen prayers for healing whih were not answered in the way the I wanted them to be. This means that I have no control over such things. It also means that there are circumstances in which our temporal suffering is not negotiable. After all, we all die physical deaths. Even Lazarus died a second time. So, the question is, while Jesus can heal, will Jesus heal this time? And if Jesus does not heal, then what is my response? The above verses reveal my attitude though I would not paraphrase it that way.
Verses 38- 40: Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39"Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
Vijai: In the hospital prior to the surgery a Latin American believer came into the hospital to speak to our relative. He talked about his own healing and prayed with all of us. He said to our relative that if he believed he will be healed. All my doubts came racing into my mind and I wondered how anyone could say such things with certainty. But I was also struck by the fact that while I struggled to witness credibly to my relative, this man was so direct. "Do you believe in the Lord Jesus as your persoal Lord and Saviour?" "Do you believe what the Bible says?"
Alma and I talked afterwards and wondered if we should seek help in our church as to how to witness. It was pretty easy in the days I first became a believer. Wide eyed and excited, I would simply describe the process of my conversion and talk about the 'before' and 'after' scenarios, and leave the rest to God. Today I'm stymied, especially during such situations in which I struggle with how to meet the family's desire for temporal comfort with eternal hope. I also wonder if I may be simply perceived as being opportunistic. Before the surgery I prayed for healing with nor preconditions. Perhaps subconsciously I may have made room for a different result by I didn't dare to voice it in prayer!
Verse 43-44: When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Vijai: After the surgery we went into the recovery room to talk to our relative. The surgery was successful. The doctors said they could get most, if not all, of the tumour out. There was no blood loss. It was the best prognosis and the best result. When we went in to talk to him, I noticed he was bound with strips of cloth, and this verse came to mind, "The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face."
Verses 45-46: Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
Vijai: If miracles demonstrate God's glory to some, they also solidify the resolve of those who want to disbelieve. It is amazing enough that after a miracle of such proportions some of the witnesses plotted Jesus' death. How does this apply to us?
One of the many believers who had come to see our relative let his wife know that God will heal him and when He does, be sure to let people know about it. I'm not known for sharing news of such blessings as I am for sharing bad news and trying to make sense of it. Well, this is my attempt to understand this wonderful blessing. As you can see I have a hard time understanding blessings as well.
Do I still think that life is not worth living if not for the hope of resurrection? In a larger sense, yes. But in the here and now I just find it worth living if only to share God's love with people- in all kids of ways, sharing the Gospel, comforting them in their difficulties and other ways. As 'tweeners' who live between the 2 earthly advents of Jesus, our purpose in the world is to win the world for Him.