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Beautiful Sorrow

book cover god in slow motion,Young woman crying,portrait,close-up

In Bethany, about two miles east of Jerusalem, there lived a small family made up of Lazarus – the head of the house – and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. What made these three unique was that they were close friends of Jesus. Powerful company to keep! And then…

While Jesus was about a day’s journey away from Bethany, Lazarus became very ill – sick to the point of death. Mary and Martha hurriedly dispatched a messenger to Friend Jesus: “Lord, the one you love is sick,” they told Him (John 11:3). Surely He who healed the blind and deaf and lame and more, surely He who loved His confidant and friend, surely He for whom compassion was commonplace – that Lord Jesus would come quickly to the aid of Lazarus, right?

Well, wrong.

Jesus refused to come, all the while knowing that any delay was deadly. And while Christ was away, Lazarus died. Days later, with Lazarus long gone and buried, Christ finally pulled up his entourage in Bethany. Too late. Much too late.

Now, if you’ve read your Bible or even attended Sunday school as a child, you know what comes next is an awe-inspiring, miraculous happy ending. Jesus stands in front of Lazarus’s tomb, commands the dead man back to life, and rights all wrongs. Joy to all!

Except… when I witness this vision of God’s power and compassion I can’t help getting hung up on what happened before the miracle.

For four long days before Christ arrived – four choking, hopeless days spent waiting while Jesus dawdled nearby – Mary, Martha, and anyone who loved Lazarus was plunged into deep despair. Look, Jesus wasn’t just late; He was deliberately tardy. Jesus didn’t just let death happen; He made sure it happened.

Our sisters had dutifully trusted in Christ, hoped in Him, placed their brother’s life in His hands, literally begged for His presence in the midst of their tragedy.

But Jesus didn’t come.

How’s that for disappointment with God?

The Open Secret: You Are Destined for Sorrow

I read recently about a political polling firm that asked people to give an “approval rating” for God. Apparently the Big Guy’s got reason for concern, because a little more than half – 52 percent – of American voters approve of His “overall dealings” with people. Were Mary and Martha a part of that poll’s results, my guess is that they’d have fallen in with the roughly 48 percent who have marked reservations about how God handles things in this fine universe of His.

I’d be willing to bet that you, too, at times have not approved of God’s dealings in your life. I know that’s been true of me. How could it not be that way? This world hurts, and when sorrow grips the day, regardless of the truth of any situation, it often feels as though God is deliberately late, that He’s simply decided not to care, not to help, not even to make His presence known.

Why does Christ allow – and perhaps insist – that His followers, His friends, endure suffering? Were I a more capable thinker, maybe I could give you a solid, theological, comforting answer to that question. But I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t know why we’re required to live through sorrows in this life, and I’m not going to pretend that I do.

My editor tells me I should at least offer up a thought or two on this, so maybe it’s an issue of growth, a way to prepare us for eternity. Maybe it’s simply a long-lasting, awful consequence of sin. Maybe it’s that you and I just deserve worse and fail to see God’s mercy in our pain.

Whatever the reason, let’s just admit the obvious, shall we? Just like Mary and Martha and even Lazarus, you and I are destined for sorrow.

There is no exemption for heartbreak in the human race. Grief defines us; it hovers over and behind every moment of life.

No, of course we aren’t constantly grieving the death of a loved one, but we grieve more than simply loss of life. We grieve loss of hope, loss of opportunity, loss of security, loss of innocence, loss of relationship, and much more. Sometimes we grieve when we just wake up and feel – for no good reason – that something has gone from life that we loved but can never recapture.

One of my favorite movies is Steve Carell’s underappreciated gem Dan in Real Life. What I like best from the whole film is the first fifteen seconds of Carell’s performance as the title character.

The movie opens on Dan sleeping. He wakes up alone and in silence, surrounded by the detritus of unfinished, overwhelming obligations from yesterday. In the empty bedroom, Dan shrugs off the bedcovers and sits up, feet on the floor. And there he pauses. Head down. Shoulders bowed. Hands gripping his knees.

A deep breath. A sigh of resignation. A summoning once more of just enough courage to face another day.

“Okay,” he says finally.

Then he stands, walks off scene and into the rest of the film. Many things happen from that point on, but whenever I see him after that, I always see in his eyes that Dan – the guy who needs everything within him just to get out of bed in the morning.

Been there. Done that.

How ’bout you?

Excerpted from God in Slow Motion: Reflections on Jesus and the 10 Unexpected Lessons You Can See in His Life by Mike Nappa, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2013.

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Your Turn

Do you relate with that Dan? In what ways has God pushed and stretched you with grief and struggle? How has God used your times of sorrow for His good purposes? Come join the conversation on our blog! ~ Devotionals Daily