Do we have any Whitney Houston fans in the house?
I mean how could you not? With iconic songs like, “I will always love you”, and “I have nothing”, it would be impossible not to belt it out, (with a lot less skill, of course).
Anyways, one of Whitney’s greatest songs called, “How Will I Know”, (which I’m sure you’re all going to have stuck in your head now), is about a girl trying to figure out if this guy she’s into, really loves her too.
I bet all of us could wave a hand and say a big “amen” along with Whitney as we recount instances where we have looked for external confirmations from others to settle our anxious hearts that we were loved by them. Whether that’s in our romantic relationships, friendships, or even families.
I would venture to say that most of us have felt either confident or doubtful about someone’s love for us depending on their behavior toward us. We are quick to determine someone’s internal affections by their outward actions…that’s only human.
But does this line of thinking still hold up when we consider the way God demonstrates His love toward us?
I find myself going back to the story of Lazarus more times than I can count. Reason being, I can identify with poor Lazarus and his sisters. I mean, clearly, our situations are different, but what I do understand is how perplexing it can be when God’s ways and His love seem to seriously contradict each other.
In short (and in my own words), when Jesus receives the message from Lazarus’ sisters that he is sick, Jesus responds by saying that Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death, and that BECAUSE He loved them he would stick around a few more days where He was, and NOT go to make Lazarus better.
Can you see how confusing Jesus’ actions might be here? He says He loves them, and that is precisely why he decides NOT to go and save Lazarus. To make matters worse, by the time Jesus does show up, Lazarus has already been dead and gone four days.
Have you ever felt this type of contradiction in your life? The painful contradiction between God’s actions and His declaration of love?
I know I have, and honestly, it has been one of the hardest things in my life to navigate.
Constant disappointments and painful delays have threatened to undermine my confidence in God’s plan, character, and love toward me, and honestly, has won many times.
The whole concept of remaining hopeful for God to come through has become more of a frightening proposition for almost certain disappointment, than a prospect for joyful expectation.
Naturally, we understand love as something that would rush to our aid and answer our prayers, but when God seems to constantly neglect, ignore, and “not show up”, that begins to look a lot more like rejection than love.
However, when I survey the story of Jesus and Lazarus I feel as though I am granted insight into my own life.
Jesus declares two things right off the bat:
- The point to Lazarus’ sickness was not for him to die but rather for God to be glorified.
- He loved them so much that he had to wait for this sickness to turn into death so that His love could give them something far greater than healing a sick man, but raising a dead man to life again.
This made me think of Romans 5:3-5:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Are you hoping for something that you feel consistently disappointed in? Does it seem like God’s actions in your life completely contradict His declaration of love towards you?
Well, if you said yes, I have too.
But if we follow the story of Lazarus all the way through to the end, we discover that ultimately their hope was not disappointed. Why? Because the quality of love that Jesus had for them was after giving them something far greater than what they thought possible.
What Jesus wanted to give them, and what He wants to give us will cost us something. It will cost us every ounce of natural understanding, because God loves us in ways that oftentimes cannot be predicted or understood by his ways.
So, to go back to our revised version of Whitney’s song…how will we know that God really loves us?
Well, if our circumstances and God’s actions seem to be a difficult barometer for His love, than remember the cross. The cross stands as an immovable beacon of God’s commitment to us.
Also, remember that, like the story of Lazarus, sometimes there are bigger things at stake, and when God seems unloving, it’s only because He is expanding our understanding to include a love that wants to give us something far greater, THROUGH and BECAUSE OF our painful circumstances.
When we expand our understanding to include this kind of love, we will be confident that our hope is secure, and will not lead to further disappointment but rather to great fulfillment.
“Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]” Ephesians 3:20 AMPC