“Why Does God Delay?”Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford
At some point in their lives, all Christians have to deal with the disappointment and frustration of God not answering their prayers on their timetable. They want something that is godly and good, they pray for it, and. . . nothing.
When we are wrestling with this problem, it’s useful to consider the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. All of us remember the triumphant conclusion, but it’s easy to overlook the less-than-triumphant beginning. In John 11:4, Jesus receives a message from Mary and Martha about Lazarus’ illness, but rather than leaving immediately for Bethany, v. 6 tells us that He stayed two days later where He was. As a result, when He arrives in Bethany in v.17, Lazarus already has been in the tomb for four days.
Unquestionably, Jesus could have acted immediately to heal Lazarus from a distance. Failing that, at least He could have left immediately, showing proper sympathy for Lazarus’ family. Instead, He kicks around for 48 hours, which results in great suffering for people He loves. When He does show up, Mary and Martha are not best pleased with Him.
However, a careful consideration of Jesus’ actions here reveals not laziness but rather pursuit of a greater goal. The resurrection of Lazarus is the miracle that finally pushes the leaders of the Jewish nation over the edge. John 11:45-53 reports that after it takes place, the chief priests and Sanhedrin become so afraid of Jesus’ popularity that they decide He has to die. If they don’t reach that conclusion, Jesus isn’t killed on the next Passover as the Lamb of God.
Thus, at that point in His ministry, Jesus is compelled to work a miracle that will force His enemies’ hand so that His death follows the divine timetable. Healing a live Lazarus wouldn’t have been remarkable enough to make them act. Jesus healed lots of people.
For that matter, raising a Lazarus only two days dead (as He could have done if He had left immediately) wouldn’t have done the trick either. The Jews would have been aware, as we are, of the Rule of Three. Generally, humans can survive for 30 days without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air.
Thus, if Lazarus had been in the tomb for only two days, the Jewish leaders plausibly could have argued that he wasn’t truly dead. Given that Lazarus was one of Jesus’ disciples, collusion was a reasonable possibility. In our own time, faith healers have tried similar stunts!
Raising Lazarus after four days in the tomb, though, made for an irrefutable miracle. After so long, the Jews wouldn’t merely have known that Lazarus was dead. Because the tomb was not hermetically sealed, they would have been able to smell that Lazarus was dead. When Martha objects to removing the stone in John 11:39 because of the stench it would raise, she has reason for so doing! Conversely, when Jesus restores life to the decomposing corpse, nobody can deny what just has happened.
Today, we cannot speculate on the reasons why God might delay or deny the answer we seek in our prayers. However, we must remember that from His perspective, things look very different than they do from ours.