Below are some thoughts I started typing while sitting in a coffee shop in Georgia.
Is God Not Big Enough? (Some thoughts on John’s Gospel Chapter 11)
This is a question people have asked throughout time. Maybe not always in these words, though. Sometimes it sounds like “God, how could you let such and such happen?” OR “God, how could you not do this or not stop that?”
In Mary and Martha’s words “If you had only been here a bit earlier…” A bit earlier would have been right before death – a cure from the sickness or heal from whatever affliction caused Lazarus’ death.
In their minds, Jesus was big enough to do that. He cured a man blind from birth in Chapter 9 – something deemed IMPOSSIBLE – “never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.” But that is what the light of the world can do. (9:32)
Martha believed the resurrection, but she missed Lazarus. Martha believed that Jesus is the Son of God. But this is death. Sure, up until that last moment of the last breath Jesus might have had a chance. And Jesus didn’t just miss it by a few moments. He wasn’t just in time. He was Four days late. Maybe Jesus just wasn’t big enough to be the Saviour.
The disciples experienced something similar on Friday and Saturday – God could have been powerful enough to come in at last moment and save the day. Jesus had even said that he could have called hosts of angels down to deliver him and save the day. And the disciples felt the pain and reality of a God who wasn’t big enough to save the day.
And maybe that is where Mary’s, Martha’s, the disciples’ minds, and our minds are just not big enough to comprehend that God is big enough. That’s where Faith comes in. Jesus called on Mary and Martha to have faith. It is where the disciples were challenged to have faith, and it is the very intersections in which we are called to have faith.
Mary and Martha were acquainted with the stories of their people. They were a few weeks away from Passover and celebrating one of the biggest superhero, in-the-nick-of-time salvation stories in history. They knew the stories of Samson and David and Daniel and deliverance from Exile. They knew the stories even though they lived under Roman occupation. They knew the stories told of a coming Messiah – a deliverer – a superhero to deliver them into freedom.
But it seems that God’s way goes against the grain of our conditioning. We all want a Saviour – a superhero of sorts. Someone or something to come in at last moment, or slide in at the nick of time to stop the timer, stop the sword, stop the plug being pulled, or whatever image we have. The heroes that do those things are big enough, and those heroes are the ones for whom we long to save the day, whatever saving the day may mean for us.
Jesus showed some potential with the feeding thing and curing the blind, deaf, lame, and sick. People started to let their hopes rise. People started to believe. Where was Jesus’ PR rep? Surely that person would have seen the huge benefit in bringing back someone from the brink of death. Instead, Jesus stays where he is two days longer. Maybe Jesus just wasn’t/isn’t big enough for the big time.
And yet maybe Jesus wasn’t interested in saving the day. Maybe our hearts and minds aren’t big enough to understand that maybe God isn’t interested in saving the day.
Maybe there is something more. In the Lazarus story, maybe Jesus was interested in more than swooping in at the nick of time. Maybe Jesus wanted people to see that he, indeed, was bigger than time and not limited by their limits. The death of Lazarus was not the end of chance to be a hero – rather it was only the beginning. He wanted to demonstrate God’s power over death.
Yet the disciples didn’t seem to get it either. Because when their Saviour and Superhero Jesus hung on that cross and breathed his last, they felt that God had missed the biggest chance of all to prove that Jesus was the Son of God. What better proof could have happened than Jesus’ last breath to have gasped, “Adonai… save… Me…” And then in a flash lightening, crash of thunder, and rush of wind the Angels break open the skies like they did on that hillside on the first Christmas morning, yet beyond just singing they lift Jesus off the cross, resuscitate him and clothe him in a heavenly gown. Jesus could have, but he didn’t. The world did not take Jesus’ life, no, Jesus laid it down.
Yet Maybe God was interested in saving more than the day and more than a life. God’s plan let Jesus die, because God’s plan was not to cheat death or steal back Jesus’ life from the brink of death. It would have been cool. Yet death would have still been the undefeatable and impossible enemy. Jesus let the world do its worst to him. And God conquered that death in Resurrection. Something way beyond the hearts and minds of the disciples. An action, a miracle, a saving beyond which they could ask or even imagine.
The story in Scripture tells us that it took some time for the magnitude of God’s great work in resurrection to make sense in the disciples’ lives, yet once it did, they literally changed the world.
Sometimes I forget that I’m part of that bigger story. That God is not only big enough for the stories of the past, yet that God loves us – you and me – and all of creation, and God wants to redeem the world. I don’t know if Jesus wanted to be as little as a superhero. I think Jesus wanted to prove that he is more than a superhero – that God is more than big enough.
At Christmas, people call God Emmanuel – God with us. And God is with us – always – in the midst of every situation. The words of a song from Andrew Peterson comes to mind. “You were there when I shook my fist at the sky. You were there when I fell to the earth and cried…” (AP “don’t give up on me”). Emmanuel – God with us – is what we remember not just during Advent and Christmas, yet every time we celebrate communion. We remember the Advent Colored Jesus – not just in the blue and purple and white of swaddled clothes or kingly regalia, yet in black and blue and purpled bruises of his body on a cross. We remember that God is big enough not to be shrunk to our limited perspectives and limited expectations. We remember that God is big enough to defeat death in resurrection. We remember that God is big enough to love all of Creation, all of us – each of us, you and me and our neighbors and our enemies and the people we could never even think of knowing. God is big enough to be the Saviour of the world. Alleluia. Amen.
Now, may God be with you, those you love, and those whom no one loves.