Tough Questions Answered

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Why Did Jesus Allow Lazarus to Die?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most common complaints against God is that he allows evil to occur in the world.  Christians respond that God has good purposes for allowing evil, but can we back this up with Scripture?

Actually, there are many good examples from Scripture, but one of the best is the story of Lazarus in John 11.

Lazarus, a man likely in the prime of his life and a good friend of Jesus, becomes ill and dies.  Yale scholar Greg Ganssle  imagines the friends of Lazarus witnessing the evil that has occurred, the evil of Lazarus’ death, “and after three days of mourning [coming] to the conclusion that there is no reason for this.  Therefore, God doesn’t exist.”

Jesus arrives at Bethany after Lazarus has been in the tomb for 4 days.  Upon his arrival, Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, bemoan the fact that he did not come sooner to heal Lazarus; now it is too late.  Jesus’ purpose for not coming to heal Lazarus is a mystery to these women.

Now we all know what happened next.  Jesus commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead, and so he did!  What possible reason could Jesus have had for delaying his arrival, allowing Lazarus to die, and then resuscitating him?

He explains first, ““Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  The resuscitation of Lazarus was done so that those who witnessed it could see the glory of God.

But there was a second reason.  In verse 42, Jesus prays to the Father and explains that his actions are meant to convince those who witness the resuscitation that Jesus was sent by God.

The effect was so dramatic that many who witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus placed their faith in him.

Now, it certainly seemed at first that there was no good purpose for allowing the death of Lazarus.  But subsequent events placed his death in a completely different context.  According to Ganssle, “In light of this context, Lazarus’s death is seen to be part of a much greater good than anyone in Bethany could imagine.”

Just because we cannot see a good purpose for some evils does not mean that there aren’t good purposes.  Since God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnisapient, he can bring good out of all sorts of evil.  We may not be able to immediately see the good reasons for every evil, but we can be confident that the reasons exist.  The story of Lazarus beautifully illustrates this principle.


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  • jim lacroix

    Mr Bill i’ve been looking for someone who may have put some thought into this topic because I have many questions about it. The story of lazarus has bothered me for years because of the way Jesus seemed to neglect his friend and let him die. This issue of God “letting” bad stuff happen to His children took on more critical importance to me when my dad died of cancer a few years ago. I kept asking myself if God “allowed” him to get cancer. If so then did God allow the cancer cells to start up in his Kidneys? Did God “allow them to spread through his system so they would metastasize in his lungs and brain? Did God “allow” the cancer to reach just the right nerve cells to cause just the right amount of pain to make him scream? Did God allow the cancer cells to become drug resistant so that no form of human treatment could help him? Did God allow his death to cause just the right amount of grief to send my mother into depression?
    In other words if we are going to say that God” lets” the general categories of physical suffering, evil and death happen to even His own children, don’t we have to say that every gross detail of every illness and every wicked act of the most sadistic being is “allowed” by God .
    Does that bother you? It does me -a lot! So I’ve kind of quit saying God let’s all these things happen because it sounds like we’re making Him the primary accomplice in every cruel act of the age of evil.
    I’ve wondered if some of the problem is inherent in that nebulous little word “let”. When we say God lets something happen, do we mean He is just a Bystander with no input into…say… a tsunami wiping out 150,000 men women and children. He just watches it happen and does nothing.
    Or does “let” mean He gives His Permission for 5 thugs to kidnap and rape a 7 year old girl even though He doesn’t want them to do it?
    Or does ” let ” mean He permits a 16 year old boy to back out of the driveway and He Directs the boys 2 year old sister to hide behind the car so that the left tire will crush her beatiful little head and spread her brains and blood down the drive way?
    What do you mean by God ” Lets” evil happen?
    I know He did once- in every since of standing by and doing nothing to stop it, of giving His permission for it to happen , and for directing the one He loved through a gauntlet of torture. But do you think he does that to every one all the time? I don’t. I can’t
    I know some people who claim they believe that God is in control of everything and nothing happens unless he allows it. But I don’t believe them. I think it might be a remnant of thinking left over from the animism and pantheism that is making a resurgence in the movies and culture. If I’m not mistaken I think pantheists believe that god is in all material things…or that all those things actually are God. The natives in Avatar thought God was the sum total of their planet. If I were going to be a pantheist, I would hold a universal concept, not just planetary. That way every thing, every where, for all time would hold the essence of God and every thing that had ever happened would have been allowed or even endorsed by the great eternal being of which we and every thing else came from and will return to.
    Do you see it? As Christians, we deny that the material world is God or even contains God, yet some Christians seem to endorse the pantheistic tenet that everything that happens in the material world is an act of God. If it’s inert matter or a life form-it’s not God. But if that matter or life form moves-it’s God. eg. A tree growing beside the road is not god. But if that tree falls on a car and kills three people then the activity is God- or at the very least endorsed by God.
    That’s my issue. There are scriptures that are commonly interpreted to support the pantheist and calvinist position of Divine predetermination of all occurrences and I probably can’t refute them all. And that bothers me too.
    But I sure would like some feed back on this.because the resurrection of Lazarus is my favorite Bible story.

  • Bill Pratt

    Jim,
    You’ve raised a number of issues, and I frankly don’t know where to begin. Could you focus in on one or two specific questions so that we could have a starting point?

  • Jim laCroix

    Hi bill, Sorry if my questioning seems scattered but it really is all related in my mind. I hesitate to distill what I’m asking into a single faceted question because…I don’t know…My question is multifaceted i guess. I think the core of it is ” Does God ” allow” everything -good and bad-to happen ? But I ask it not only for an answer but to discover the human mind set that that the answer comes from. It almost seems like a universally common reaction among unbelievers, believers(especially those with a strong reformed stance), pantheists, insurance companies with their “act of God” language, drunks (who seem to blame God for everything}, and preachers- most of whom also use language implicating God with all sorts of things every Sunday

    I have tried to alter my thinking and at least allow for the possibility that maybe God isn’t “allowing” all the wickedness and tragedy that happens. I’ve tried to consider that maybe He has given me everything pertaining to life and godliness in Christ Jesus and that I don’t have to believe He’s also giving me hell on earth.

    I’ll stop. I’m sorry if I’m unclear. This has not been easy for me to grasp.
    Jim

  • Bill Pratt

    Jim,
    I think it is important to understand the complete biblical story. According to the Bible, God created a very good world without sin and then created human beings with free will. It was the sin of those human beings that plunged the world into the “hell on earth” we see today. You could question why God would create a world that humans would ruin, but it seems that the existence of free creatures who can make good or bad choices is something that God sees value in. Would you rather none of us existed or that we were all automatons, without any ability to reason, to love, to choose?

    The bottom line is that God’s creatures have made hell on earth, not God. He is allowing it to continue for now, but that must mean that there is good coming out of this hell on earth. Since God knows everything, he must know that this world is the best way to get to a world where all evil is abolished. That is what the Bible promises.

    Thoughts?

  • jim lacroix

    Bill, there are several thoughts about that line of reasoning that leaves me unsatisfied.
    First Adam didn’t create the evil. But he was the first human participant and victim.
    Was Adam the first and last person to have true free will ? Because if God values it so highly, why are our choices to not get cancer or not be poor, for example, ignored as though we are automatons with no dignity or significance? Our will and choices are violated all the time.
    Secondly, The argument that the end justifies the means seems to devalue everything that happens here as insignificant.Your argument seems to divorce God from any complicity in what goes on here but He refutes that by telling us that not even a sparrow dies without his knowledge and consent. I also believe all will end well somehow.That’s not my concern. I’m worried about my existential human response to the doctrine that Nothing happens to us without God’ knowledge or permission. Or to put it more graphically-EVERYTHING happens to us with God’s knowledge and permission. I am questioning the validity of that teaching. I believe almost everyone lives with that question in their subconscious. But almost no one wants to deal with it on a conscious level. It seems too painful and difficult-too contradictory to the loving God we hold in our imaginations.

    .

  • Jeff Harrison

    Jim, Bill, may I enter a few thought-provoking convictions for consideration? I too find many questions that I’ve come to accept as will be answered in glory, and not before. However, that being said, I also believe there are answers to most all of life’s questions. For instance, Jim is correct in stating that Adam didn’t create evil; nor did God. As Bill expressed, we are created with a “free will.” This creation of free will began long before the creation of mankind. In Heaven, angels undeniably enjoyed “free will.” Lucifer and his cohorts could not have rebelled against God had they not been created with “free will.” Hence, the evil established came from the very free will ability granted by the Lord God. Now, evil being present, God creates mankind with the same “free will” and allows him/her to be exposed to the temptation(s) of evil, but the choice remains for us to make; obey or sin. Each sparrow, each hair upon our head, every act or deed is under the scrutiny of the Almighty, Ominsicent God. Still, the question looms. If I may, let’s approach it from the word God has given us. The Apostle Paul said, “…I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) Suffering is the result of the corruption brought upon every living soul and all of creation by sin. One glorious day, all the pain, all the sorrow, all the cancers, diseases, plagues, etc. will be abolished by the power of God’s redemption. It’s the “free will” part that propagates bewilderment within us. Left to our own imagination, we would assuredly become as those in the days of Noah. Pain, tragedy, senseless loss of life, unexplainable suffering, all typically lead to cries of deliverance from the very God which gave us hope of better. The sad reality is the blame God receives for everything, and yet, our finite minds cannot conceive of any other explanation. We indubitably ask, “Why…if God is a God of love?” God is not merely a God of love, but love itself. He not only demonstrates this by creating us in the first place, which by the way guarantees opportunity of eternal life, which is another irrefutable evidence of His love for us, but is long-suffering toward us in giving us numerous chances to thumb our nose in His face when the Holy Spirit is compelling us to come to Christ. We truly are limited in our understanding of the love of God. It is much akin to a sandcastle asking why it was fashioned in particular manner as destruction approaches in an oncoming wave. God is indeed God! Did God…? The answer is unequivocably, “Yes!” God had to allow or He ceases to be God. Jim, I am very much encouraged by what I deem to be a deep abiding trust in God in your life. Your query didn’t bespeak of betrayal, just questions. You seem to be resolute in your defense of God, but a little off track in your theology. Keep the faith, draw as close as you can to the Father, abide in Jesus Christ, and your questions will turn into strong apologetics of a faith, “…no, not in Israel.” (Matthew 8:10)
    Blessings.

  • jim Lacroix

    Thanks guys for trying to help me sort this out. I’ve been walking in and out of the Way for almost 40 years but this struggle with omy experience with evil and injustice has really shaken me. I know a lot better men than me have turned their backs on the faith because of this and it scares me because I can see what did it to them. I’m really trying to find a rational, Godly line of thought to help me navigate out of this mess. It’s like I can handle all the evil we have to endure as long as I don’t think God is involved in permitting it in some way, I believe He is fully aware of how evil attacks us from within and without. But I don’t think I can stop from reacting toward Him in a fight or flight response if I think it all comes through (or from) His hands. I laid in my bed last night for hours trying not to let fear of Him or anger at Him take over my mind. I’m not playing intellectual mind games with yall. I keep trying to figure out where my thinking is getting messed up. I’ve already had one pretty bad spiritual lapse a few months ago but was able to get back on my feet. I don’t want it to happen again… Want to know what brought me back?
    Being mad at God is a worse feeling than having Him treat you bad…. Yall’s thots have helped and I have had a couple ideas that keep floating to the surface that I need to develop more…Stuff like- God has already overcome all evil that comes against us so I need to live in that light and not succumb to the agony or fear of evil as though it is from His hand and cannot be resisted. I need to think more about God’s purpose for me when I’m confronted with evil- resist-stand-fight-run- let it destroy my flesh if need be but don’t let it reach my spirit? …It’s like I have to turn off the awareness I have that He is allowing some stupid, destructive trial and just focus on my reaction to the circumstances. Or see all the death, misery, injustice, evil etc as defeated by Him on the cross and live in the Spirit of grace unseparated from His love by anything I go through in this world. What ever, I know I can’t do it in my own strength- and probably not by myself either.
    thanks again, Jim

  • jim LaCroix

    Had an interesting Bible study just a couple hours after posting those previous thoughts. I decided to do a word study on Matt. 10:29 to get a better understanding of the word “will” in “not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will”. That has been one of the most problematic texts for me in this inquiry into whether or not God consents to all the evil crap that comes into our lives.Since I don’t know Greek, I used my Strong’s concordance to find what the greek word for “will” was in this verse and then I was going to look it up in my greek dictionary to see how it was used and any nuances in the meaning of the word….Well was I surprised !! There’s no “will” there in the greek. There’s not even a hint of another word for ” will” like desire, or consent, or permission–nothing. It actually seems the old KJV has the most accurate translation. “Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father.” The word and concept of “Will” has been added to support the doctrinal stance of whoever was translating the text. The NKJV, the NIV, and the Amplified all have it in the distorted form.. I’ve read the NASB for a couple decades but always read it with the presupposition that some concept of “will “was in the verse. Unfortunately I imagine most people read it and color it the same way and then unwittingly use their mistranslation to bolster their misconception.

    So why am I making such a big deal out of this? Because the correct translation of that verse seems to do two things-Support the concept I’ve been trying to grasp that God is not extremely busy “willing” or allowing evil in just the right doses into all our lives. And second, that when I fall to the ground like a sparrow, my Father is totally aware of every detail and fully with me in His presence for sustenance ,support and comfort.

    In other words, it’s not that God willed me to suffer evil but that He is with me to ease my fear when it does happen.

    Am I bolstering my misconception?

  • Splendorious

    Everything that is God made it.
    He did not want us to eat of everything.
    To say that Lucifer made evil is empowering to him.
    How many belivers are actually unaware devil worshipers…
    Besides evil, what else do you think exist that God did not make.
    This earth wont made for us, nor us for it.
    We were put here to subdue and dominate the demons that had made a void of it.
    We had no awarenes of evil until the serpant begiled us.
    He disarmed us of the ignorance that shielded us from the knowledge that we were simply suicide bombers created to oust him and the fallen angels.
    JUST IMAGINE IF YOU DID NOT DIFFERENTIATE GOOD & EVIL.
    You would not care about insult nor injury.
    ISN’T THAT WHAT FORGIVENESS IS – A RETURN TO UNKNOWING GOOD & EVIL.
    WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ADAM AND EVE LIFE WOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE, NOR HOW THE EVENTS OF THE WORLD WOULD HAVE UNFOLDED.
    Perhaps the same as they already have, for it would have been less painful for us all if we never existed. But God’s will is carried out at all costs, even His own Son.

    Why do people still have children in a painful world. Just think you all that – so you gotta reproduce another life to suffer.

  • Mathewjt

    I get what you say about bringing good out of evil. The difficulty I have with things like the story of Lazarus is that surely it would be a greater good to taketo avoid the evil in the first place?

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    How so? If Lazarus hadn’t died, and Jesus hadn’t raised him from the dead, then the many who placed their faith in Jesus based on this event would not have done so.

  • Matthewjt

    Firstly, sorry about boinging a post that was so old, I hadn’t realised when it poped up on my mobile feed on my phone. Technology eh!

    Anyway, with regards to those who came to faith based on this story. Do we know the exact number and do we also know that it was only due to this event and did it have to be such a dramatic event?

    What about the emotional pain and suffering the relatives and friends had to go through for this?

    Is it really okay to put people you love through that to gain a few more followers? It doesn’t sit well with me.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Jesus didn’t just gain a few more followers – that misses the point. Jesus claimed that believing in Him means gaining eternal life, so these people literally gained eternal life!

    So it was absolutely worth a few days of mourning for Lazarus’s friends and family to eternally impact the lives of those who witnessed Lazarus coming back to life. I am sure that if you could ask Lazarus and his family about it afterwards, they would have all agreed that it was worth it.

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