“When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” John 11:4
In recent months all of us have been reminded that life is short. As of today (September 21, 2020), there have been over 961,000 confirmed COVID-related deaths in the world with over 31 million cases. 1 Since January 1, 2020, there have been over 30,826,000 unborn babies murdered in the world through abortion procedures. 2 These statistics alone are alarming.
On a more personal note, when we were living in the Philippines, fifteen college students died in a bus crash in Tanay, Rizal in February 2017. A few months after that, a Korean pastor was murdered near our subdivision when he confronted a thief breaking into his home.
It is normal for us as human beings to ask “Why?” Why has God allowed so many lives to be lost through the global pandemic? Why does He permit innocent babies to be killed before they begin to live outside the womb? How can He allow such young people to suddenly die in a bus crash? Why does He permit someone who accomplishes so much good to be murdered by a thief? I believe it is okay to ask these kinds of questions. God is not disturbed by such questioning because He knows it will foster growth.
Another question that comes to my mind as I ponder these deaths is, “Why does God sometimes allow situations to get worse after we pray about them?” Why does our spouse or child who is sick, become sicker after we ask the Lord for their healing? Why does our job situation become worse after we plead with the Lord to make it better? Why does that unresolved conflict worsen after we beg the Lord to help us resolve it? Doesn’t God care? Doesn’t He hear us?
These kinds of thoughts probably raced through the minds of two of Christ’s dear friends when Jesus allowed the situation they faced to become worse after they asked for His help. From these verses in John 11, we will discover several reasons why the Lord sometimes allows a situation to become worse after we pray about it. Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it?
The first reason is to DISPLAY MORE OF HIS GLORY (John 11:1-4). Because the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus in Judea, He went beyond the Jordan to Bethany of Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28). During this time, a tragedy fell on a household at Bethany, a small village located about two miles southeast of Jerusalem. This is not the same Bethany where Jesus was currently staying on the east side of the Jordan River. This household had often given Jesus hospitality when He was in Judea.
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.” (John 11:1). John records just how close Jesus was to this family in the next verse. “It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” (John 11:2). These were not casual acquaintances. They knew and loved each other very much. This is why the sisters sent for Jesus. “Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ ” (John 11:3). This sickness must have been very serious since they called for Jesus to return to the area. The sisters assume Jesus would come right away when He heard that their brother, Lazarus, was sick because Jesus loved him.
When a godly Christian became seriously ill, several friends gathered around his bedside to ask God to restore him. The last one to pray spoke of the faithful service of this man, and concluded his prayer by saying, “Lord, You know how he loves You.” After a moment of silence the sick believer said to him, “I know you meant well, but please don’t plead for my recovery on that basis. When Lazarus was ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, but their request was not based on his affection for Christ. They said, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ It’s not my weak and faltering allegiance to Him that calls forth His attention, but His perfect love for me that is my constant strength and hope.” 3
Mary and Martha’s plea for Jesus to come heal their brother was based upon Jesus’ love for Lazarus, not Lazarus’ love for Christ. From the perspective of the two sisters, “If you love someone, you will drop what you are doing and come to his aid.” But look at Jesus’ response. “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” (John 11:4). Jesus did not view Lazarus’ sickness as a crisis. He did not see the final outcome of Lazarus’ illness to be death. Instead, He saw it as an opportunity to display God’s glory. Lazarus’ illness was not because of a specific sin in his life or a lack of faith, but because it was going to be used to reveal God’s glory as the “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).
If someone thinks that a Christian walking with the Lord cannot become ill or contract a disease, that person is either ignorant of the truth or just downright wrong! Lazarus’ sickness was not a means of punishment nor a sign of rebellion. Instead, his illness had a higher purpose.
Think about it. What would bring God more glory – to heal Lazarus or to resurrect him? What would lead more people to believe in Jesus – to raise a living person from his sickbed or a dead person from his grave? One of the reasons God may allow a situation to get worse in our lives is to bring Him more glory when He answers our prayers. Sometimes God makes us wait until it seems that the answers to our prayers are impossible so that He gets more glory!
Our tendency is to think that God does not care about us when He does not answer our prayers immediately. But the truth is we do not often understand His timing and purpose because His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). What He asks of us during these times is that we trust Him.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your ways and Your thoughts are so much higher than mine. I cannot understand Your timing and purposes much of the time. But this does not mean I cannot trust You when I face difficult times. I truly believe that You allow situations to grow worse even after we pray about it so You can display Your glory in greater ways. You demonstrated this by permitting Lazarus’ situation to grow worse so You could reveal Your Person and Power in a greater and more meaningful way. Even now, as more people die of COVID or other causes, more people will begin to think about their need for You and fall on their knees begging You for mercy. Lord, the Scriptures clearly tell me that You are still on Your throne when bad things happen on earth. Your purposes are still being fulfilled. The Bible is still true when it says with God all things are possible. Please continue to use the bad things in the world to get peoples’ attention so they can believe You are the Resurrection and the Life, Who guarantees a future resurrection and never ending life to all who believe in You. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.
3. Dave Branon, Hymns: 90 Devotions From Our Daily Bread, “His Love Not Ours.”