Reflections on the Death of a Loved One

My family recently suffered the loss of my mother-in-law, a wonderful woman of God who was taken from us rather suddenly by pancreatic cancer.

My mind turns to the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11 when Jesus Himself lost someone He loved (John 11:3, 5), and I ponder three questions:

Question #1: Why did Jesus delay?

At the beginning of the story (v. 3), Jesus is told that his friend Lazarus is sick, but Jesus delays two days before heading to Bethany (v. 5). As a result, Lazarus dies and is buried (vv. 14, 17). This prompts Mary, Martha and the crowd to say something like, “If only You had been here Lazarus would not have died” (vv. 21,32,37).

Question #2: Why did Jesus call Martha to faith before the miracle?

When Jesus arrives at Bethany, Martha meets Him (v. 20). Jesus vaguely tells her that her brother will rise again, but He doesn’t tell her when (v. 23). Then He calls her to believe in Him as the resurrection and the life (vv. 25-26). Since He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, wouldn’t it have been easier to call her to faith after the miracle? But no, Jesus calls Martha to faith when He has appeared to fail her – when she has every reason to doubt Him.

Question #3: Why did Jesus weep?

In every child’s favorite memory verse (v. 35), although Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, He delays the miracle a little longer to weep with great emotion.

Answer: Jesus modeled how to grieve with faith.

I am struck by how this event seems specifically designed for Jesus to model how to grieve the loss of a loved one – especially a beloved believer. The family requests that Jesus heal their brother (v. 3) just as many families pray for those they love. And as often happens in life, the healing never comes.

Instead, in the face of her sorrow and disappointment and in the face of death itself, Martha is called to have faith in Jesus as the Life-Giver who brings the ultimate healing of resurrection. It is this call to faith which Jesus Himself says is the reason for His delay (v. 15). All of us who have lost loved ones to illness are in that in-between time period. We are saddened and disappointed that our loved one was not healed, and yet Jesus holds out the hope of a future resurrection – a hope proved certain by the dramatic raising of Lazarus (vv. 38-44). In the midst of our sorrow, we have reason for faith.

I find it strangely comforting that Jesus felt it appropriate to grieve at the grave of someone destined for resurrection.

On the other hand, I find it strangely comforting that Jesus felt it appropriate to grieve at the grave of someone destined for resurrection. A future, certain resurrection does not eliminate all present grief. Jesus balanced grief and faith.

We are in the time of Jesus’ delayed coming. Some of our loved ones have already been buried. Jesus shows us it’s okay to cry, as long as in our tears we trust in Him as the resurrection and the life. Do you believe?

Randall Curtis serves as the Rhode Island Regional Coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England.