Since I wrote the Bible study on Romans 8, I am more mindful of how and why we need the gospel every day.
Romans 8 taught me that belief determines everything, from thought to emotion to your state of being. When life is hard and I am frail, how well will I cling to belief or toss it out the window?
When it comes to the soul (catch up here), the part I struggle with the most is true versus false self and the difficult task of vulnerability. Figuring out how you deceive yourself is one thing, but figuring out how to trust someone with that frailty is another. I used to be able to do it in my writing, but my writing has grown guarded and safe. In order to write well, you have to be willing to tell the story, and it comes at a cost to someone somewhere, often to the writer in some fashion.
I am a dreamer. Dreams feel effervescent, held comfortably and gently. A dream is “a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep” (Cinderella). However, dreams are not as impractical as we think. The line between reality and unreality is often blurred. A dream in the real world is not much different than an expectation or desire.
I often hold the idea of a thing, a dream, tighter than I hold real tangible things. I keep it inside, knit tightly to my bosom, in hope and wonder and awe. And maybe because of the wonder of the thing, maybe that’s why I keep it so close. The real world might pop the fragile bubble if I share it and expose and name it.
I suspect all of us have a way of holding onto the things we don’t want to get broken. I’ve had many broken dreams, and “my life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes” (Anne of Green Gables). Yet, I haven’t stopped dreaming. I still have expectations and desires. And mostly those desires are in one form or fashion tainted with selfishness. That’s another reason to hold them close — they are less lightly to break and less likely to get spoiled. But without sharing them, they often stay intangible and bubbly, an idea safely tucked away for another day.
If we are honest, we have lots of dreams that get broken. Marriages fail. Friends betray us. Children rebel. People get sick instead of well. A loved one dies.
Yesterday, I found myself confronting a dream I’d held close, an idea of a thing, I’d shared with only one or two. It was shattered before it reached maturity, a miscarried aspiration. The loss felt as real as any other grief.
The pain of it made me ponder anew Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. John 11 is one of my most favorite passages. I love the entire book of John, but I am drawn to this one. Lazarus is sick, yet Jesus does not go to him right away. He purposefully does it in order that “the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Lazarus dies, and Jesus was not there.
Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:21-22). She hadn’t quite stopped her hope. She didn’t believe he would be raised then and there, but she believed that one day, he would.
Mary says through broken tears, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). The same words are said in a different way. Her belief perhaps different than Martha’s, the frailty of two different women displayed. Her statement seems to pose a type of question. Why, Lord? Why all this pain? Then, Jesus weeps with her. He sits with her in her grief. He does it for His love of Lazarus, yes, but also for His love of Mary.
We have a God who not only commands us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), but a God who has become frail alongside us and cries along with us. There is a holiness in this mysterious place of longing, crying, and grieving.
Then as we know in the biblical account, Lazarus is raised. Jesus raising Lazarus was signing himself over to death, though no one grasped the gravity of it at the time. Maybe Mary did. We later see her taking an expensive vat of perfume and pouring it over the feet of Jesus and using her hair to wipe his feet. The infamy of it was as good as Mary declaring herself his lover. Did Mary love Jesus for what He did to love her in grief? in raising her brother? Did she love Him for who He was? We don’t know the complexities of why, but we know she was whole-hearted in her devotion to Him.
What if the miracle doesn’t happen? What if the thing we hoped for dies or doesn’t come to pass? Will we still be found giving our whole heart over to Jesus? Will He still be as sweet?
Later on, the disciples experienced the death of their friend, Jesus. He’d raised Lazarus to give them a clue that His resurrection was possible, but who believed the dead could raise Himself? What kind of God is it that dies? What kind of God is it that experiences the pain of humanity? who suffers not only in our place but often alongside us?
Why we need the Gospel every day is because life is hard and painful, but Jesus is a man of many sorrows. Each day we are “prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love.” We are prone to ask, “Why, Lord, why? Had you been here this would not have happened.” But Jesus in His death and resurrection has “bound our wandering heart to Thee” (Come Thou Fount). We rail against the pain, the tears, the suffering, and the sorrow, yet the Balm is tightly wound around all our frailty, pain, insecurity, and hurt. We need only listen for the sound of His crying, feel the weight of His arms holding us, taste his breath on our cheek, and see the agony He suffered on our behalf.
The Gospel reminds us of “two wonders here I must confess: my worth and my unworthiness, my value fixed, my ransom paid at the Cross” (My Worth is Not in What I Own).
He is not a cold, shallow, or distant god. He is God nearby, picking up the pieces of our shattered hearts and making them priceless works of art. Even when miracles don’t happen, when friends get sick and die, or our bodies fail us, still, the hope of Christ prevails.