God’s Response to Our Doubts in the Midst of Suffering 


Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”” (John‬ ‭11:32-44‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Lord, if only you had been here… we encountered this same reaction earlier in this story when Martha met Jesus as he was arriving in Bethany. Now Mary comes running to him with the same cry. As I mentioned last week, John is obviously drawing attention to this statement since it is repeated three times in this story. While we talked about the implications of this statement last week, we considered it in light of “where is God when I’m hurting?” This week, I want to look at it from a different angle. Let’s go back to the text and take a look…

Mary comes running and cries out in her anguish, “Lord, if only you had been here my brother would not have died.” She then falls before him weeping and the other mourners join with her. Jesus sees and hears them, and is “deeply moved in his spirit and troubled.” It is really easy to just glide right over this statement and even read our own interpretation into it, but John chooses his words carefully. An initial reading might lead us to conclude that Jesus is “deeply moved” by the grief and sorrow of Mary, Martha and the mourners. Knowing what we know about Jesus character and compassion, I have no doubt he is emotionally moved by their grief. But, that’s not the picture being painted here… let me explain.

Let’s take a quick look at Matthew 9:27-31: “And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.” (Matthew‬ ‭9:27-31‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Notice Jesus reaction to the blind men, he “sternly warned” them to tell nobody about the incident. Now take a look at Mark 1:40-45: “And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” (Mark‬ ‭1:40-45‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Notice here a similar situation and response… Jesus sternly charged the leper to say nothing to anyone. One more, Mark 14:3-6

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Mark‬ ‭14:3-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Each of these passages uses the same Greek word that is translated “deeply moved” in the passage we are studying. Also, our passage mentions that Jesus was troubled (see also: John 5:7 and 14:1). Is He troubled by Lazarus’ death, as some think, or is he deeply moved and troubled by Martha, Mary and the mourners’ doubts? Based on the repetition of their accusation, “Lord, if only you had been here…” it appears that they question his actions, his motives and his love. While it doesn’t tell us that Jesus scolded them, he was deeply moved and troubled by their doubts…

Just how did Jesus respond to their doubts? He wept…

While some think verse 35, Jesus wept, is in response to Lazarus’ death that doesn’t really make sense. Why would he weep over a circumstance that he had orchestrated and was about to transform? Others think he is moved to tears by Mary and the mourners emotional reaction to the tomb. They drew near the tomb and began to wail loudly and Jesus reacted to their emotional outburst. Again, he is about to transform their weeping to rejoicing. 

I think the best explanation for the text is that Jesus is reacting to their doubts, their questioning of his motives and his love. You can hear their questions and doubts in the repeated statement, “Lord, if only you had been here.” Is it really surprising to think that Jesus might weep over our doubts or our questioning of his motives or love? Aren’t we moved to tears when someone questions or rejects our expressions of love? 

But, our doubts demand a response. They’ve elicited a response from Jesus, he weeps over them. What response do our doubts elicit from us? Do our doubts move us to tears? At the very least, our doubts ought to cause us to stop and assess. If Jesus is worthy of our trust, then our doubts have no place in our faith and actions.

How does scripture respond to doubts?

Let’s look at a few examples… 

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke‬ ‭7:18-22‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

It might surprise you to learn that John the Baptist had doubts. The same one who declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” also says, “Are you the one who is to come (the promised one, the Messiah), or should we be looking for another?” Jesus response: consider the evidence, what did the prophets say, do my actions fulfill those prophecies?

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude‬ ‭1:20-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

How will we respond to our doubts?

Tim Keller: We should not encourage people to simply stifle all doubts. Doubts force us to think things out and re-examine our reasons, and that can, in the end, lead to stronger faith… What the heart trusts, the mind justifies, the emotions desire, and the will carries out. Everything follows the heart.

So, we don’t stifle doubts but we confront them, we re-examine the evidence, hear the truth, and emerge with a stronger faith for the next battle. 

Mike Licona: Faith is not necessarily the absence of doubt; it’s acting on what you believe… We can look at the evidence, make logical conclusions, and have reasonable certainty. That’s all we can ask for. One can doubt just about anything; the question is whether or not those doubts are reasonable.

Article regarding doubt…

How will you respond to your doubts? Examine the evidence, hear the truth, desire God above all else, make knowing Him your treasure, pursue it with all of your heart.

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