“One needs difficulties; they are necessary for health,” Carl Jung said.
I don’t particularly like his statement, but I think he’s right.
Paul and James said something similar (Rom 5:3-5; James 1:2-4), as did Helen Keller:
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
And Jesus himself said that in this world, suffering is inevitable, though it doesn’t have the last word (John 16:33)
Mostly, now, I’m okay with my limitations; in my better moments, even grateful for them. They’re part of life, and have been a place where I’ve deeply encountered Jesus’ gentleness and compassion. But this week I’ve been particularly aware once again of my limitations, and have felt the frustration and sadness and loneliness that accompany them.
In that place, I’ve been hanging out with Mary and Martha, not, this time, when they’re fighting about cooking dinner, but as they’re grieving the loss of their dear brother and all the questions that accompany it.
They had sent word to Jesus before Lazarus died, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3).
And Jesus, for reasons I don’t fully understand, delayed two days before responding to the summons to come.
I’ve chosen not to get hung up on that question—Jesus still would have arrived two days after Lazarus’s death, since Lazarus had been dead four days when he arrived. And I’m willing to trust his choice.
Instead, I’ve been living with Martha and Mary the part of the story after Jesus eventually arrives, noticing their different interactions with Jesus, and letting myself encounter Jesus there as well.
Jesus and Martha
Martha, then Mary, both approach Jesus with the same longing refrain. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32).
Martha continues with what appears to be a declaration of faith, but is also, I think, a request, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus responds, “Your brother will rise again.”
The possibility of that happening now seems (understandably) to be outside Martha’s ability to conceptualize, so she responds, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus continues the conversation with a statement of hope which has been read countless times at Christian funerals.
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
It’s a beautiful statement, a needed truth.
But, this time around, the words feel flat and unsatisfying to me compared to how Jesus’ interaction with Mary unfolds.
Jesus and Mary
It begins the same way: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
But Mary doesn’t continue with a question or a request that Jesus do something, or even a statement of her faith. She just falls at Jesus’ feet and lays bare her pain before him.
And Jesus responds not with many words but with his presence and with tears. He shares her suffering, grieves along with her.
He speaks only five words, a question that enables him to be more present, participate more fully in her grief. “Where have you laid him?”
Those weeping with Mary respond, “Come and see, Lord.”
It’s not simply an answer—“in the garden,” or “over by the willow”—but an invitation deeper into togetherness. “Come and see.” Come and see the situation, the devastation, the wrongness of death. Come and see my pain, Lord.
Here, here, I find comfort. Not in questions and answers—not this time. Not even true and wonderful answers from the lips of the One who raises the dead.
Instead, I find comfort in Jesus’ presence here, and in shared sorrow.
Yes, Jesus will raise Lazarus, and will rejoice with the reunited family.
Yes, the Pharisees will be jealous of all the attention Jesus is getting and will start trying to kill him. The walk to the cross will begin.
But here, before the raising, before the cross, is this precious preview of God’s heart: There wouldn’t be a walk to the cross apart from God’s choice to be with us in our suffering.
He is present with us, feeling with us. And as he walks to the cross, it is our suffering he carries:
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Is 53:4)
Someday, we will feel the full results of that walk to the cross, when we stand in the face-to-face presence of God and hear him declare,
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. . . . Behold, I am making everything new!” (Rev 21: 3-5)
But today, as we hold this vision of what’s to come, may we also have the courage to lay our pain before Jesus, inviting him to “Come and see.” And may we know him close, feeling our sorrow with us and comforting us with his presence.