News and Tribune

March 21, 2013

MAY: Sacrificing self

By TOM MAY
Local columnist

— Are there times in the Bible when you so identify with the characters and the situation that you can almost imagine yourself in the scene? 

About a month before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, a close-knit family of three siblings experience pain and grief up close as the brother suddenly takes ill and passes away. During the painful days of the aftermath of the burial, Jesus arrives to find Mary and Martha, the sisters, in despair. 

Literally and figuratively, I have been in Mary’s sandals more often than I care to count. Her words have been my words. Her thoughts have been my thoughts. “Lord if only you had been here ...”

Philip Yancey has a thoughtful book, “Where Is God When It Hurts.” To prepare for the book, Yancey talked to people who knew pain. 

“For some of them, pain is their life. It is the first sensation to greet them in the morning and the last they feel before drifting off to sleep, if they are lucky enough to fall asleep despite it.” 

So many of them are confused and wearied by the constant nature of pain and the desperate cry for God’s presence.  

If only you had been here ... and our feeling is universal. If God had been present, He surely would not have allowed these bad things to happen. Where are you, God, when I am hurting? 

And oh, how my life can hurt. Relationships disappoint. Business decisions falter. Career choices are shipwrecked. There is never enough money. Health begins to deteriorate. Dreams fade as surely as the sun scorches the colors out of a painting in its direct light.

Broken, battered, I sit wearily contemplating. Where are you, God? And he finally arrives. Two days late, two dollars short.

Exhausted, like Mary, I only have strength to weep and to whisper: “If only you had been here.” 

“Where is your pain,” he asks. “Come and see.”

And like Mary, I so much want him to see. Here is the tomb, Lord. This is where my pain resides. Gaze upon my dreams that lie shattered on the floor like broken glass. My daughter isn’t coming back. My spouse left me. The doctor says it’s cancer. I’ve lost my job. Come and see, Lord, come and see.

My spirit and my soul ache. Words cannot escape my lips. It is here where I hurt. It is here where I am exhausted. Can’t you see where I am? I am crying hysterically. My friends are grieving, weeping as well. Mourning lingers heavy on the breath. Why do you stand so far away Lord?

His sigh is real. His breath is deep and pained. He stands stoic, but not removed. He is not far away; he is far closer than you will ever realize.

Jesus looked at Mary’s tears and circumstance the exact way he looks at yours and at mine. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Death wasn’t supposed to reign. Sin wasn’t supposed to have a stranglehold on our being. We weren’t supposed to be separated from loved ones. We weren’t supposed to feel that God was distant.

Jesus stared at the tomb, the same way he stares at your pain and my pain today. 

Determined. Resolved. Courageous. 

“I can bring Lazarus out of that tomb right now, but eventually he will just go back in. I need to bring him out for good — and the only way that can be done is if I go in and get him.”

Do you see Jesus? He’s tilted his head toward you. He sees your tears, and he shares them.

“I can stop your pain right now, but another pain will simply return. If I am going to stop it for good, I am going to have to go in and get you.”

And he did.

  — Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.