Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this..they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat..into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. …so then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord….The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Like a dark stain spreading across all of life, comes the news that one whom we love is sick, struck down in mind or body, and suffering. The thoughts of their trouble colour everything else we do, and so we do as the bible shows us others have done – we tell our Lord all about it, bringing the beloved to him in prayer as trustingly as those men brought their paralysed friend on his mat.
The reality and irrationality of suffering are one of the greatest trials which we are called to bear as followers of Jesus. We know from the bible that in God’s plan for his children, there should have been no such thing – and that is why at the very root of our distress, lies the sense of outrage that such things should happen. This is what God feels about all the consequences of human rebellion, all that has come upon us and our world since the fall. It is wrong, it goes against the grain of God’s blueprint for creation, and we were never designed for this. It is right and proper that we should be appalled and agonise over these things – and this can in some way help us when the bad news comes, because we know our reaction is not ungodly, but right and true.
But all too often when we have prayed…and prayed…and trusted..the illness does not lift. The world is full of believers who are living with chronic conditions of pain and disability; living with the crippling effects of mental illness, all in spite of faithful prayer for many years. The disability campaigner and noted Christian writer, Joni Earicsson Tada is perhaps the most famous of these faithful believers at this time, having suffered not only paraplegia but also depression and cancer, and all the side effects which arise from life in a wheelchair. Sometimes it must seem that God is mocking his children, when those who are already weak and suffering are knocked over again by a new trial.
The bible is adamant that God loves his children, that everything he does and permits is wholly designed for their blessing and his glory. But the bible also reminds us that God’s ways are so far beyond ours that we cannot begin to comprehend them, and we will probably never get answers to the bewildered plea of our hearts ; “Lord, why should this happen to them? How can this possibly be good for anyone?!”
So what is my reaction? How do I pray? I remember Job, in all his sufferings and recall that the silent companionship of his ‘comforters’ was more precious than all their words – so I offer my presence and love-in-action to the one in need (and to their family who are suffering too). I note that Job’s trial gave great glory to God, and pray for this to be the result for my loved one – may they too acknowledge and praise God in spite of all that is happening to them. I think of the laments of the psalms and prophets, and bring my sense of outrage against these things to God, acknowledging that they are part of sin’s consequences in the world, and weeping with him for the suffering they cause to his precious children. I consider Jesus’ example of truly undeserved suffering, borne in humility and faith and obedience so that God’s will might be done – and I pray that I might learn to trust God’s ways more completely, and that the suffering beloved might be given grace also to see that even in the midst of their trial, Jesus is an utterly trustworthy Lord.
And ultimately, I thank God that my beloved one knows Jesus as Saviour, so that no matter when or how healing and deliverance may come, their future is not dark but radiant; not defined by a failing body or fractured mind, but whole, beautiful and flawless, thriving in eternity in intimate communion with the Lord. This life is not the end of our story, but in him, only the beginning! Halleluia, to him be all the glory, and to us his most bountiful grace.