As I write this I’m confronted with the reality that I’ve not had much experience with people close to me dying. I guess I’m lucky in that respect. I have watched friends lose people close to them and I have tried to extend my condolences but it has never hit me as hard.
I first heard about the death of my aunt Irene as I was waiting in line at the money center at the Walmart in noblesville Indiana. I was next in line and didn’t know how to handle the news so I asked my mom if I could call her back. In hindsight it wasn’t the best way to handle the situation but its what happened. After doing what I needed to do at the money counter I retreated to the book section of the store and called mom back up. We talked for about 5-10 minutes and I asked all the questions I could think of( including the inappropriate ones). My mind has a tendency to rush when I’m confronted with something like this and my filter isn’t on much.
What I learned that day was that grief takes different forms. Usually when I an sad about something I am able to write out what I am feeling. it took me two weeks to do that this time. Why? I think there are a number of reasons. I loved my aunt very much but the truth was i hadn’t seen her in years and never got to say goodbye. But there were other reasons too. I was experiencing a sort of disconnect with how i was feeling. As a Christian I believe that to live is Christ but to die is gain. So if I believe that then I should ultimately be happy that Irene was in Heaven under much better circumstances. Still I wanted to say goodbye and wanted her back here.
Last night I wrote my mom to tell her I was having difficulty finding words to express myself. She told me to look at the verses in the Bible about death and she mentioned Lazarus. I had already been thinking of that story .
The story of Lazarus happens in John chapter 11. We first hear of Lazarus when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that his friend, Lazarus has become ill. They want Jesus to come quickly. Jesus waits two days to head to where Lazarus is and when Jesus arrives his friend Lazarus has already been dead for 4 days. Mary and Martha accuse Jesus of being too late to do anything for their friend. They know Jesus can raise their friend from the dead .
I want to stop here for a second because this is the first recorded instance of tangible grief in the story and while it seems completely understandable, it’s also pretty audacious at best to tell God he was too late. But we do it a lot. When people pass we ask God why? And why He didn’t show up and heal the person that passed?
But I guess that’s not the question that I’ve always wondered about when I got to this part of the story. If both Mary and Martha knew what Jesus was able to do, why did they accuse him of being late? Could it be that grief has no logic, no sense of reason? And if that’s true, why would God allow instances of such humanity, grief and doubt in his book?
Years ago I met Rich Mullins. He taught a class I attended and during that class he explained that one of the things he found so remarkable about the Bible is that it contains so many stories of people acting unbiblical and how that shows us a God willing to look past our shortcomings. That changed my life.
Jesus answers the accusation by saying that He is life and people who believe in Him will be resurrected.
After being accused of tardiness by both Mary and Martha, Jesus asked to see the tomb. As soon as he saw it, he did one of the most perplexing thing I think he ever did. He wept.
When I was in college one of the best Bible studies I ever lead was one question that we spent an entire hour going over. Why did Jesus weep? Did he weep because his friend died? If he knew he’d be able to resurrect Lazarus why would he need to weep over his death? Was he showing grief to show solidarity with his friends? Or was he weeping over Mary and Martha’s doubt? Or lastly, was he weeping because he knew that although Lazarus was going to be resurrected, he was going to miss out on Heaven for a bit longer? The answer: it could be all of the answers to all these questions. We may never know. But deep down as I think of those two words, it comforts me that Jesus grieved . It gives me permission that I can grieve as well.