When things go wrong, we’re often encouraged to turn to God and trust Him. But what happens when we do that and our situation doesn’t get better? What happens when we begin to question His existence? We asked Simon Edwards from the Zacharias Trust to share some advice about how we can learn to trust again.
Mary and Martha are worn out with worry and grief. Their brother Lazarus is sick, on the verge of death, but they have not abandoned hope because the three siblings are friends of Jesus, and Jesus has the power to heal. They’ve seen Him do it for others, and a message has been sent: ‘come quickly Jesus. Lazarus, whom You love, is sick’ (see John 11:3). Surely, Jesus will answer this heartfelt cry for help.
But He doesn’t, and their worst nightmare comes true. Lazarus breathes his last, agonised breath; and then he is gone, forever. And Jesus is nowhere to be found.
Have you ever felt let down by God? Or confused about why He hasn’t answered your prayers for help? You’re not alone. Surely this is how Mary must have felt. When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead a number of days. When Mary sees Jesus, she falls at His feet and says, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ (John 11:32 NIV).
How does Jesus respond to Mary’s confusion and grief? In the shortest verse in the Bible we read, ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35). He wept! Whatever the reason was for Jesus not showing up in time, it wasn’t because He didn’t love Lazarus and his two sisters. And whatever the reason is that God hasn’t answered your prayers or removed the suffering in your life, there is one thing you can be absolutely sure of: it’s not because He doesn’t love you. In fact, we read in the Psalms that God holds all our tears in a bottle. Just think of that. Every single one of your tears matters to God. You are so precious to God. That’s why He gave his life for you on the cross.
So then why doesn’t He always answer our prayers, give us the desires of our heart, take away our disappointment? Really, if God is so good, why does life hurt so often?
There are no easy answers here. But here are a few things we do know:
- Most of the hurt in our lives is caused by ourselves and by other people, not God;
- Beautiful surprises can often emerge when life doesn’t go as planned;
- Most of us, in hindsight, can think of a bunch of prayers we’re glad God didn’t answer with a ‘yes’;
- God never promised us a pain free life, even warning us that, ‘In this world you will have trouble’ (John 16:33 NIV), but He did promise that He’d be with us in our pain and suffering. ‘Fear not, for I will be with you’ says the Lord (see Isaiah 41:10).
He also promises that, one day, there will be no more tears.
In the midst of a grieving community, Jesus walked to the tomb of Lazarus and cried out, ‘Lazarus, come out’ (John 11:43 NIV). And to the wonderment of all, Lazarus, now raised to life, did exactly that.
In the same way, however hard this life may be, one day the sting of suffering will be removed: life will swallow up death, joy will swallow up sadness, all that is wrong will be put right. And in the meantime? Jesus calls us to trust Him, even in the midst of disappointments and pain so terrible we cannot help but cry out to God in frustration and in tears. But even then, we can trust Him. Not only because, let’s face it, where else have we to go? But also, because the one who promises to be with us is worthy of our trust, and He has the scars to prove it.
Simon Edwards is the UK Director for RZIM Zacharias Trust and the Assistant Chaplain of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.