The past two weeks have included readings from John's Gospel which give Christian plenty of opportunity to present God as anything but loving. Last week, when His disciples ask about the blind man, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?", Jesus' answer is translated as "neither. . . he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him." The way the verse is translated and often understood, God has this man born blind so that He can show off how powerful He really is. That does not really sit with our understanding of a loving, caring God who's self-revealing characteristic is hesed --covenant love.
Fast forward to this week, Jesus gets a message from Mary and Martha that "he whom you love is ill." We are told that Jesus waits two days to return to Bethany despite the fact that He loves them dearly. Better still, He seems to heartlessly tell us that "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Many of us understand Jesus to be saying "I am staying here until Lazarus dies so that I can be glorified." And if we present these two stories in this way, it is no wonder that people miss the miracles of healing and condemn us for following a god so self-centered and so cruel.
Of course, if the stories are taught rightly, we understand that God is truly the loving, caring God whom we believe Him to be. The seeming conundrum of the first passage is overcome if we realize that the original Greek had no punctuation. Does the passage say what the NSRV says, or does it say "So that God's works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day." Admittedly, such a phrase is cumbersome in English, but it seems to point more to a loving God than the translations often used. And the second passage is even easier to understand. Jesus waits two days before returning to Bethany. But, upon His return, we are told that Lazarus has been in the tomb four days. In other words, Lazarus died two days before Jesus ever heard from the messenger that "he whom you love is ill."
Cynics might well sneer and wonder why on earth we think that God is not cruel but loving, healing us rather than always punishing us, redeeming us rather than condemning us. There is plenty of evidence of His attitude towards us in the Bible, but this week's reading, which includes the shortest verse in the entirety of the Bible, relates His care for us beautifully. "Jesus began to weep." Imagine, the creator of the universe, of all that is seen or unseen, the God Incarnate began to weep. Our Lord is calls us each to a relationship that is so personal, so intimate, so loving that even He is moved to weep at our suffering. Though we would expect Him to stand off and be removed from us, He chose to enter this world as one of us. And the same God who created the universe and all its glory stands and weeps at our deaths, for He knows this was not what He intended. This world is not what He created. And how many of our friends, neighbors, families, co-workers, classmates and others reject that kind of love and settle for what this world has to offer? What loving heart would not be moved to such tears over such a tragedy? Brothers and sisters, that is the loving God to whom we are called to witness to the world.