My grandchildren’s rabbits, Fuzzie and Cotton, have had many litters. Recently, they had another, which means that numerous bunnies have come from the two of them. But not long ago, my granddaughter Allie came in crying because, sadly, Fuzzie had died. This is heartbreaking for a child, so I tried to put the best perspective on it that I could. I said, “Well, Fuzzie lived a long life and left us many bunnies.”
“It isn’t fair,” Allie said. I think she tapped into something we feel about a lot of things in life: That just isn’t fair. We all assume we will live long lives, and it seems like an aberration that death would come and change everything. Really, it’s true: It isn’t fair. It isn’t good. It is harsh and mean, and it rips away people we love.
Ours is a generation that doesn’t want to think about death. But in days gone by, people talked about, accepted and understood that death is, in a way, a part of life. They would write the words memento mori over legal and financial documents. This translates, “Remember you must die.” In other words, think of death. In effect they were saying, “All this money you have in the account right now? You aren’t taking it with you, buddy. You’re going to leave it behind one day, so think of death. Keep perspective.”
Nowadays we don’t want to think about death at all. We won’t even use the word death when someone dies. We’ll say they passed on. We might use a technical term like expired. The undertaker is the mortician. The coffin is a casket. The graveyard is a memorial park. But all those words don’t change the harshness and reality of death.
Know this: Death is not a friend; death is the enemy. The Bible tells us that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (see 1 Corinthians 15:26). Death takes people away in the prime of life. It cuts lives short.
Yet God never intended for people to die. His original in the Garden of Eden was for us to live forever. But our first parents, Adam and Eve, ate the forbidden fruit, and sin spread like a plague across humanity. Death came with it, which is the result of sin.
We find a story of death in John’s gospel, a story of Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus, who died. They were devastated by this unexpected tragedy. Like my granddaughter Allie, they effectively said, “It’s not fair.”
They were a tight-knit family, one that happened to be very close to Jesus. In fact, Christ himself often frequented their home. There was something about the home of Mary and Martha that made him feel comfortable. They could legitimately say that Jesus was their personal friend. So when Lazarus got very sick, they sent word to Jesus, figuring he would take care of it right away.
But he didn’t. John tells us, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (John 11:5–6 NIV).
Jesus actually delayed his arrival because he loved them. But if he really loved Lazarus, then why didn’t he go and heal him immediately? When hardship, tragedy, or even death comes into our lives, we might ask the same. If God really loves me, then why did he let this happen?
His delays are not necessarily his denials. The book of Ecclesiastes says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (3:11 NIV). A no today might turn into a yes tomorrow. That is where you will have to trust God. When you’ve lived for a while and look back on your life, you’ll start thanking God for not answering certain prayers in the affirmative. You’ll come to realize that he didn’t give you what you wanted because it would have hurt you. He had a better plan for you.
Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. They were looking at the small picture while he was looking at the big picture. They were looking at the temporal, but he was looking at the eternal. They were looking at the physical, but he was looking at the supernatural. They wanted a healing, but Jesus wanted a resurrection.
Sometimes the reason God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we want him to is because he has bigger things in store that are better than what we ever could have dreamed. That’s why it’s always a good idea to pray, “Father, not my will but yours be done.” As Ephesians 3:20 reminds us, he is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (NIV).
It’s foolish when people say, “I’m mad at God. I’m not talking to God anymore. I’m not going to church. I’m not reading the Bible.” We need to come to the Lord and cry out to him, honestly sharing our hearts with him. We need to understand that he is in control. We can ask why all we want. There’s nothing wrong with asking why. Just don’t expect an answer.
We live on promises, not explanations. I don’t think we should spend too much time wondering why. In this life I don’t think we ever will understand some of the things that have happened to us. But I do think we will understand when we get to Heaven.
Jesus weeps with us in our times of pain. We may think that God is indifferent, that he’s disconnected and doesn’t really care. But when we’re in pain, he feels that pain as well. Jesus bore our sins, but he also carried our sorrows. So if it hurts you, it affects him. Jesus wept. That says a lot about how he looks at us and cares about us. Death breaks God’s heart, just as it breaks our hearts.
We all want hope, but we get it through tribulation. Romans 5 says, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (verses 3–4 NIV). Hope grows strongest in the garden of pain. We think hope grows when everything is going well, but actually that isn’t the case. Hope grows when there are problems, because that’s when God comes through and shows us his power in the darkest of circumstances. That is where our hope gets strong.
The tomb is not an entrance to death but to life. Heaven is the earthly life of the Christian, glorified and perfected. Christ has conquered death.