God meets us where we are with kindness and grace.
I teach Middle School on Sunday Mornings. One thing I ask them a lot when reading Bible stories is, "why do you think God did that?" and 99% of the time their first response is "to test their faith."
They're twelve years old and already have it in their heads that if something tragic or traumatic happens, it’s God trying to test them. In their minds, they either do the "right thing" and God blesses them, or they mess up and are unworthy. Almost like God is trying to trick them or trip them up. They know the bible stories, but they see them through the lens of a performance-based culture.
I then ask- "okay, well, what happens if they fail the test?"
Which always results in silence.
We were reading through the story of Lazarus this weekend. We talked about the amazing faith of Martha and Mary- how they brought their big feelings to God, even though they were mad at Him and it looked like He didn't show up. But they trusted God anyway.
I asked them why they thought God let Lazarus die in the first place, and they said it was to test Mary and Martha’s faith. Then I asked, “if they hadn't still believed in God- if they had been so angry they walked away- would God still have raised Lazarus?”
Are God's miracles and good works ever dependent on us doing the right thing?
Is anything about God’s goodness and faithfulness dependent on *us?*
What I don’t see in this story is God testing their faith in the way the middle schoolers see. He’s not sitting around with a microscope, waiting for them to make the wrong move. He didn’t raise their brother Lazarus because they did “the right thing.” It wasn’t because they got an “A+” on their test and this is their gold star. In fact, both of the sisters had moments where they were upset with Jesus. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21). Can’t you just imagine the strain in her voice, the tears in her eyes?
This Jesus, who she loved, trusted, and followed, didn’t show up in time when she needed Him most (or so she thought).
And in that moment, Jesus doesn’t scoff at her. He doesn’t rebuke her. He doesn’t say- silly girl, don’t you know to trust me? Don’t you know better?
I see three ways He responds instead to their pain and confusion.
- He reminds them of the truth. “Jesus told her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’” (Verse 23.)
- He felt for them. “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.“ (Verse 33)
- He felt with them. “Jesus Wept.” (Verse 35)
Before He ever took action to fix the problem (which He knew He was already going to fix), He met them where they were at. He felt for them and with them. He was kind, gentle, and loving. He cared about their pain. He wasn’t watching to see how they respond to an impossible situation, but joining them in the hurt. Walking with them through it.
God doesn’t expect us to not have normal human emotions. Faith doesn’t mean never getting confused, hurt, or upset with God. But it does mean going back to Him, over and over again. It does mean believing He is for you, even when it doesn’t make sense. In verse 22, Mary says, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”
Especially in grief, sorrow, and hard times- do you think God understands? Or is he waiting for a "gotcha" moment?
God is not out to spite you or smite you. If He is testing your faith, He isn’t up there trying to trip you up and watch you fail. He already knows the outcome, and He doesn’t do anything to be mean. He’s not disappointed in you. He is growing you in this process, showing you something about Himself. He is patient and meets you where you’re at. Go to Him. Pray to Him. Seek Him. You can trust Him, because He does understand our pain and our feelings.