The Second Death of Lazarus (Pt. 1 of 3)
Father in Heaven, may You be glorified in what follows; may Your people be blessed by it. Let these words be an encouragement and not a stumbling block. Indeed let my words be cast aside and let only Your words come through. May we gain an understanding of how we might be the salt and light You call us to be, and enable us to have a better understanding of the great significance of eternity as compared to this life, so that we might be able to pass that understanding on to those who don’t know You, to tell them of the saving power of Christ, and to give to others the love you have given to us. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Jesus healed a crippled man, told him to pick up the mat upon which he had been carried, and to walk home carrying it. He healed a man of blindness when the man washed off the mud Jesus had placed on his eyes. He brought a little girl back from the dead, or out of a deep sleep as Jesus seemed to describe it, when she had been very sick and everyone thought her dead. He brought Lazarus out of the grave after he had been there for 4 days, already odiferous, Martha surmised.
But have you ever pondered this? All of these people…still died.
Ken Ham, in his book How Could a Loving God…? (Powerful Answers on Suffering and Loss), pointed this out, and I realized that I had never before considered the thought that all of these people, and all the others whom Jesus miraculously healed, are now dead (in earthly terms). I don’t know why I had never thought of this, but for me it put a different perspective on their healings. I had never thought a minute past the end of their stories – maybe it’s because their stories, as told, do not close with their deaths. Just for illustration purposes, how about these alternate endings?
“The man who had been crippled walked and ran and jumped for joy for 36 more years. Then he came down with an unknown disease, and went on to meet his Lord.”
“The blind man was so overjoyed with his newly received sight, that for the rest of his life he hated sleeping. He wanted to stay awake and keep his eyes open as much as he could. Then one day, sleep was what did him in. He couldn’t be roused one morning at the age of 92…he was dead. Seemingly healthy for his age, his heart just quit during the night, it was thought.”
“That little girl lived a long, healthy, and prosperous life after Jesus woke her up. She had children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. She almost had great-great-greats, but she met her reward just a few months prior to the arrival of her first. Jesus wasn’t around to bring her back again, but hey, she was 103, so there couldn’t have been too much more that He could have wanted her to accomplish. She had already done so much for so many people.”
“Lazarus. Poor Lazarus. Jesus brought him back from the dead, but then it seemed like we hadn’t even turned around and he was dead again. A couple years after Jesus’ resurrection, he was killed in a horrific camel stampede incident. Cruel world, it is.”
These endings are only fiction, and while not intended to suggest that we take death lightly, are intended to remind us that death is coming for all of us, and that it can come in the most unexpected ways. Mainly they are intended to emphasize that these people who had been healed or revived did eventually die.
All of us, (with the exceptions of Enoch [Gen. 5:24] and Elijah [II Kings 2:11]) including the ones whom Jesus cured of various afflictions and whom he raised from the dead, are under the curse of death. These privileged souls who directly and physically felt the healing hand of Jesus, still died at their appointed time. This begs a few questions.
Will God perform a miraculous healing in the life of someone I love? Someone we love finds out they have a life-threatening disease. Prayers will be requested, and people will pray. The afflicted likely will also pray. Healing, understanding, comfort, peace, medical expertise, and God’s will, all will be prayed for. And this is biblical: God has instructed us to pray in many places in Scripture. “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14) In the Gospels Jesus tells us to pray. He teaches us how to pray, why to pray, for what to pray and for whom to pray. I don’t think God intended prayer solely to be a way that we can try to sway Him toward our wishes (even so, Jesus did say, “ask it in my name and you shall receive;” see Matt. 7:7 and Luke 11:9). I once heard Greg Laurie say that the purpose of prayer is to pull us closer to God and to cause our desires (thus, the things we pray for) to align with His Will. God established prayer because He wants us to communicate with Him. Since He knows our needs before we pray, I believe that in addition to communication, He established prayer for our benefit, as a way for us to acknowledge the fact that we need Him, and a way for us to rest in knowing that we have laid our burdens at His feet. So will these prayers for the sick influence God’s plan, and will He deliver a miracle in this person’s life, like the healings he carried out for the lame, the blind, and the leprous through the touch of Jesus? The answer to this question is, if He chooses to, He will, because He can. Anything beyond that will remain a mystery to the earthbound. He may deliver a miracle through an unexplained healing, or through the hands and resources of caregivers, or not at all. In any case, it’s all in His control, He will act according to His perfect plan, and even when we who love Him don’t understand that plan, He has promised us that it is for our good. (Romans 8:28).
If He does perform a miracle, what is the reason for it? A. Is there a specific purpose? B. And is it truly “healing?” (Hang with me here.) God has a purpose for everything, and uses all things to accomplish His perfect will (again, Romans 8:28). If He chooses to deliver a miracle, what is the purpose? Maybe it’s helpful to first figure out what His purpose is not. It would not seem to be to relieve the afflicted of suffering in this life. We will not escape suffering, because we are all under the curse of death, which includes suffering. The afflicted, even if healed of a particular bout of suffering, will eventually die of something. Death will be brought about by suffering, whether prolonged or in a matter of seconds, whether of a reoccurrence of the same affliction or of something different. Death will, one way or another, win the mortal battle. And the in-between will bring sufferings of all sorts, from mild to severe – this is the harsh reality of life on earth which we all must face. So God’s purpose could be to relieve this particular case of suffering, but it wouldn’t make sense to say it is to relieve suffering in total, because there is no avoidance of suffering in a sinful world, whether minor or major. (“He…sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Mt. 5:45). Neither would it seem to be intended to provide the afflicted with avoidance of an earthly death, because as already noted, we all will die – if not now, then later. So what is the specific purpose(s)? Often people like to say that God has something else for the person to do – that their time has not yet come. It’s hard to argue with such an idea. So maybe it is often (or always?) the case that there is a specific purpose for healing, which may or may not be revealed, but God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9), so who of us can know for sure? But there is one answer we can know for sure: that if God chooses to enact a miracle, it is certainly to bring glory to Himself. (see John 9:1-7). Secondly, is what God did for this person really “healing?” This question is not at all to doubt God’s power, nor to mistrust His intentions, but rather to consider the meaning of the word “healing” in terms of the temporal vs. the eternal. The person is healed of a certain affliction, but the physical body remains in a fallen world and is still destined for death. So the person is temporarily healed in the earthly sense, but this healing does not heal in the eternal sense. It could be argued that true healing only comes at death, and only for the believer, when we are able to leave the sin of the world and move into God’s presence. Healing on earth may indeed have a specific purpose, but even if the person lives for another 70 or 80 years, it is only a blink of an eye compared to the eternal. Even though a loved ones’ death is always painful to us, a believer’s healing at death is permanent, for all eternity. Jesus’ miracles caused people to believe, but once He had their attention, He turned their focus toward the eternal and emphasized its far greater importance. We can change very little about our human condition (perhaps nothing?), but God has given us the power and freedom to make one decision about Christ, which will change everything about our eternity.
Stay tuned for the next installment, in which we will explore why God sometimes does not choose to deliver an earthly healing…