Why Did Lazarus Have To Die? (And why do I have to suffer?)

Why do I have to suffer?

Why Did Lazarus Have To Die?

I’ve been reading Eric Metaxas’s Miracles again and there’s a section where he addresses the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. And Metaxas really made me think. Why did Lazarus have to die anyway? Why did Lazarus have to endure the suffering? Why was it necessary for his family to mourn? I mean, Jesus could have shown up earlier and healed him as he did for so many. But he didn’t. So Lazarus suffered–and died.

By the time Jesus got there his sisters and his friends were weeping. And in answer to anyone who would say that God is some sort of impersonal metaphysical force, Jesus, God incarnate, was overcome with grief himself. And he wept for his friend, and for his friend’s family, and for his friend’s friends. Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, had been dead for four days. Four days. That’s significant because there was this idea in Jewish culture at the time, that when a person died their spirit hung around for three days. And here we find Lazarus dead beyond that time period. In fact when Jesus directed the men to remove the stone that sealed the tomb, Lazarus’s sister Martha protested.

“Hang on, he’s been dead for four days. He’s been decomposing,” she said, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench.”

But Jesus went ahead with it anyway.

He prayed out loud, not so God could hear him, but for the benefit of the people there.

And Lazarus walked out of that tomb.

And here’s where I have to ask: Why? Why was that necessary? Why did Lazarus and the people who loved him have to suffer that way? Why couldn’t Jesus have just healed him?

And the answer is found when we ask the question: What would have happened if God didn’t work it out that way? Think this through with me. What would have happened had Jesus shown up a week or so earlier and just healed Lazarus as he had for so many others? For one thing, we wouldn’t even be talking about this right now. That healing would just be a footnote in the scripture if it was mentioned at all.

But the way He worked it out, God and Jesus were glorified in amazing fashion. The miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection was one of the pinnacles of Jesus’ ministry. And there’s also the great message of the miracle. God and Jesus used Lazarus’s resurrection to communicate to us, to say to us:

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:21-26)

So yes Lazarus suffered. And yes so did his family and friends. Even Jesus suffered and grieved at his passing.

But I’m betting Lazarus would say, “It was worth it.”

Why Do I Have To Suffer?

Why do you have to suffer? And why do I? When Lazarus suffered there was a Divine purpose behind it. And the same is true when you or I suffer too. When our heart is broken, or when our health is broken, or when our finances are broken, we may not understand it at the time. We may not even understand it this side of heaven. But there are reasons.

One reason is that when we’re breezing through life people don’t see Christ. It’s when we’re suffering that people see the Spirit of Jesus in us. It’s when we’re suffering that Jesus is glorified in a way that attracts people to Him. That alone is reason enough.

But there’s another reason too. And it has to do with the depth of our relationship with our Father. I don’t know about you but when I’m on a roll I don’t want to stop rolling. I don’t want to stop rolling long enough to pray. I don’t want to stop rolling long enough to read His word. I have no desire to take the time to connect with Him in a deep and meaningful way. It’s when I’m hurting that I take the time to go deep with God in prayer. It’s when I’m hurting that I go the deepest in His scriptures.

Suffering cultivates intimacy with Christ.

I’m reminded of Paul and how he prayed three times for God to heal him. But God said no. Because God saw more value in Paul’s life with that thorn in his flesh than if he lived without it. Sometimes our connection with Him is so much stronger with that trial that our life is more meaningful with our suffering than it is without it. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Lazarus suffered and died for God’s purposes.

We suffer for God’s purposes too. And I think I’d rather suffer and remain closer to Him than to live without that trial and drift away from His presence. In a temporal material sense I don’t like it. But from the perspective of relationship with our eternal Creator, I can’t see trading away that depth for a downhill path without pain.

Like Lazarus, I would say,

It’s worth it.

If you let your suffering draw you closer to Christ, maybe you will say the same.


The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus, Bible Gateway

Eric Metaxas, Miracles, Dutton Adult, 2014

Image via Dominic Campbell – Creative Commons

5 Comments on “Why Did Lazarus Have To Die? (And why do I have to suffer?)

  1. Pingback: Discomfort With Death | God Running

  2. Pingback: Suffering | God Running

  3. I like what you had to say about why Lazarus had to die. I’m disappointed at how you’re setting the Lord up to be the “bad guy” when it comes to why we suffer.

    There is no mention in your article of our own personal responsibility when it comes to suffering we endure. If you step back and look at what you wrote, you just told the person with emphysema that they are suffering because of a divine reason — no — they’re suffering because of the decades of chain smoking they engaged in. You just told the person who is struggling financially that youre broke because God is trying to get closer to you — no — you werent responsible with your money, now youre suffering the consequence for it. (These are generalizing statements, yes, but hopefully you get what I’m pointing out).

    Yes there *are* times when the Lord will allow a level of suffering becase he’s trying to prove a point (Job), you mocked him (John the Baptist’s father), He’s trying to get your attention (Paul), or youre just being plain disobedient (children of Israel, Jonah, King Saul). A byproduct of each incident being that you would rely on the Lord a little more diligently. God will use every opportunity that arises to strengthen the bond between we and He – so, yes, suffering cultivates intimacy with Christ. Button dont position it so that it looks like the Lord Is **causing** the issue “just because” he wants to be your BFF. 🙂

    • I like your comment Eric and I appreciate you pointing out the importance of personal responsibility. I totally agree that our Father, out of love for us, wants us to act wisely and responsibly. In previous blog posts I’ve written about taking care of our bodies, and managing our finances, and behaving wisely and responsibly in other areas as well. There’s no way I would ever encourage anyone to justify their bad judgement by saying they are simply suffering for God’s purposes. Lazarus was a guy who fell ill through no fault of his own so this particular post is for those who suffer with no apparent explanation why it has to be that way. Sometimes we do everything right to the best of our ability but still experience suffering. Sometimes we might even sacrifice ourselves, like a soldier defending his country who suffers debilitating injury to his body or mind. Obviously I didn’t communicate that very well in this post. I appreciate you for bringing it to light.

      • After I wrote the comment I thought “boy, i hope he doesn’t think im coming down on him.” 🙂

        Overall i did appreciate thr article. And thanks for the response. When you say it that way your article does make more sense. My reality is that alot of people where I live cIaim that their suffering is unwarranted or “out of nowhere” but when you start to dig past their lament you find that these were self-inflicted wounds, not God-inflicted.

        I also shuddered because I’ve seen plenty of posts relating to how God operates be eviscerated in the comments by the staunch non-believers and trolls out to blame God, call Christisns lame, and blame the Lord for all manners of events that were the results of someone elses choice or the poor choices of the individuals suffering. MY thought was “oh no, dont give them any *more* ammo!!”

        I apologize because I am guilty of not, at least, checking out your other posts which probably would have let me see how balanced you are in your overall discussions.

        I look forward to reading more….thanks!

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