Monday, June 22, 2015

When Love Doesn't Look Like Love

Near my bed sits a yellow legal-sized piece of paper, crudely-formed ABC's strung together to read, "I Love Mommy Because."  Numbers fall down the page's left margin beside a list of whatever my youngest son could dream up that fit the bill.

I've held onto this love letter for almost two years now.  On those days when my children just don't get how everything I do is an act of love for them, I pick up this page and remember back to my oldest son sobbing on my sofa while younger siblings peeked around corners or stood on the steps below to hear his complaints about how this mommy didn't love him as much as she loved the twins.

Even the walls listened that day as I snuggled him close and began to list everything I had done that week because I loved him--I washed his clothes so he wouldn't go naked, I forced him to drink his milk so he would have strong bones, I allowed him to go to Oma's house so he could have be loved by his other family, I drove to the library and checked out more books so he could open up entire worlds through reading...

When the tears stopped, he went merrily along his way as if nothing had happened, and I wondered if he had internalized anything I'd said.  But a few days later, the yellow love list appeared, a testament that the son who had been listening in the wings had understood.

Much like my children know I love them, I know God loves me.  Sometimes, though, if I'm really honest with myself, God's love doesn't look like love to me. In fact?  It looks and feels a lot like pain and maybe even a little like punishment, even when it's nothing of the sort.   

While my Bible study had nothing to do with the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus this past week, that's where I found myself stuck....on the tiny, insignificant word So:

"Now a man was sick, Lazarus, from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent a message to Him: “Lord, the one You love is sick” (Jn. 11:1-3).

It's the word "so" that demonstrates Mary and Martha's faith in Jesus and in His ability to heal.  "So" can be translated "therefore" or even "consequently."  According to Thayer's Greek Lexicon, it's a word "indicating that something follows from another necessarily."

In other words, Because of X.....then Y.  Because Lazarus was sick (X).....the sisters sent for Jesus (Y).

That use of "So" makes perfect sense, demonstrating the sisters' faith in Jesus' power over illness.  Please come...

But Jesus didn't.  

In fact, after Jesus heard the message, Scripture includes a really odd phrase "Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus" followed immediately by the words "So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was" (Jn. 11:5-6).

In the Greek, it's the same word found in verse 3.  "So"--consequently.

Because Jesus loved Mary and Martha (and maybe even Lazarus?) (X)....he didn't go heal Lazarus (Y).

Imagine Mary and Martha waiting...expectantly waiting, turning with eager anticipation each time they heard footsteps in the dust outside the house.  Or perhaps their faith was even greater and they waited expectantly for Jesus to simply heal from afar as He had done earlier with the nobleman's son (Jn. 4:46-54).  Either way--the waiting for a miracle that just never happened must have been heartbreaking....Lazarus' death seeming to be such an unnecessary disappointment.

Honestly, someone having the power to help but choosing not come to my aid when I call to them for help--that just doesn't look like love to me. 

But that's what Scripture says: He loved; consequently, he waited.

Jesus explains His actions to the disciples by saying, " I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe" (Jn. 11:15).  In essence, Jesus was telling them that He loved them enough to allow pain and heartache in their lives, all so that their faith would be strengthened. 

When Jesus finally made it to the three-day-dead corpse of Lazarus, Mary and Martha both seemed to question His love, each woman repeating the same phrase, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died" (v. 21, 32).   

Even in their grief, though, they spoke faith in Jesus' ability.  That had not changed.  But Jesus loved them enough to desire to show them even more of Himself in order to increase that faith.

When Martha is disturbed at Jesus' request to open the tomb, Jesus says just this: "Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" (v. 40). 

This act of love in showing His power over death did more than a simple act of healing could ever do.  What's more, it not only increased Mary and Martha's faith but increased others' faith as well.

Understanding God's love versus man's love requires us to stop and view things from God's point of view.
  • As painful as our sufferings may seem in our humanity, in God's economy, NOT healing a person can be an act of love. 
  • In God's economy, the sufferings of this life that seem to last an eternity are actually less than the blink of an eye in comparison to the true eternity. 
  • In God's economy, it's not just about me and my faith being increased.  It's also about those around me and their faith being increased as well.  
No matter what our emotions tell us, let us constantly look at our circumstances as proof of God's love for us, saying as Paul did, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

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