It Was the Best of Actions, It Was the Worst of Actions

I’m fascinated by the comparison between this account of the story of Lazarus and this one. Here’s a taste of each. First, from John Piper:

Look again at the connection between verse 5 and 6: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore [because of this love], when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” He did not hurry to his side….

[Jesus] said in verse 4: “This illness does not lead to death [in other words, the point is not death]. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” This illness will turn out for the glory of God, and the glory of the Son of God…. Therefore (verse 6) love lets him die. Love lets him die because his death will help them see, in more ways than they know, the glory of God.

So what is love? What does it mean to be loved by Jesus? Love means giving us what we need most. And what we need most is not healing, but a full and endless experience of the glory of God. Love means giving us what will bring us the fullest and longest joy. And what is that? What will give you full and eternal joy? The answer of this text is clear: a revelation to your soul of the glory of God—seeing and admiring and marveling at and savoring the glory [of] God in Jesus Christ.

Now, from J.M. Green:

Perhaps Jesus had some remorse over his heartless actions, but personally, I’m not buying the whole thing about him being deeply moved and troubled. Looks suspiciously like alligator tears. Remember, this is the guy who in a very calculated manner used Lazarus as a pawn in his exercise in self-promotion. This Jesus character in the gospel stories could easily have arrived in time to prevent the death of his friend. There would have been no need for Lazarus to have experienced the agony of dying. No reason for his sisters to suffer the grief of losing their brother.

But he didn’t.

Why? Quite simply because he wanted to impress people. He wanted to glorify himself and Yahweh. The suffering and death of Lazarus was useful to furthering their agenda. While this sort of behavior might be expected of a North Korean dictator, it is quite nauseating to see it venerated in a religion.

When you read about God’s ‘glory’, understand that we are talking about his ego. The god of the Bible likes to look good. He wants people to be impressed with him. Apparently his self-esteem needs frequent propping up. Of course, Christians have tried to put some noble, spiritual sheen on God’s need for glory. They’ve framed it in their minds as something admirable, when in actuality it’s despicable and pathetic.

Both agree that Jesus deliberately did not heal Lazarus before his death. Both agree that the purpose of this was to reveal God’s glory. So what makes the difference between the two accounts? Their ability to see God. The biggest gulf between Christians and atheists like Green is not the question of God’s existence, but the apprehension of His beauty and goodness. Our understanding of this passage depends on whether or not we see God as truly being worthy of all glory. No fallen human being is worthy—not even the best one, so any attempt to evaluate God by imagining what we would think of a flawed human (such as a dictator) who acted as if he were in God’s place will of course elicit revulsion when one talks of glory and praise. But if God is truly and uniquely flawless in goodness, love, power, and in every other possible way, then to participate in the joy of praising Him is a morally right, beautiful, and fulfilling thing to do.

So why do we see Him so differently?

There’s a reason why Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn 6:44). Our morally broken hearts are dead set against Him from the beginning. We’re “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). We’re His enemies (Rom 5:10). The “sweet aroma of the knowledge of [Christ]” is “an aroma from death to death” among “those who are perishing” (2 Cor 2:14-16). On our own, “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them” (1 Cor 2:14). We shouldn’t be surprised Green sees God the way he does, we should expect it. The true surprise is that we don’t see Him that way.

Here’s the point: The fact that anyone is able to say "Amen!" to Piper's quote is due entirely to a miracle. It’s only because “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). There is no other reason. We’re not better. We’re not smarter. We don’t deserve it. It’s God’s love and grace that snatched us out of our rebellion, so treat your atheist neighbors with the humility this truth demands. Remember what it was like to be blind so that you don’t despise the blind. Don’t forget that apologetics—explaining the reality of God to others—is, at root, a supernatural endeavor, and pray accordingly.

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Amy K. Hall

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