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The raising of Lazarus from the dead was a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry. It not only foreshadowed Jesus’ own rising from the dead a short time later, but also pushed the faith of Jesus’ followers to the limit.
As Lazarus lay dying, Jesus got his hair and nails done.
As Lazarus lay newly dead, Jesus played another round of pool at the pub.
When Jesus finally made his way towards Bethany and Lazarus’s grieving family, all of his followers were certain that Lazarus was dead. Some of them even blamed Jesus for not showing up sooner to save him.
But God had a plan.
(God always has a plan.)
And God’s plan is always better than everyone else’s. It just doesn’t always look that way.
Jesus knew God’s plan for raising Lazarus from the dead because God told him. But God also told him not to tell anyone else for a time.
He wanted people to believe what they wanted to believe.
It was a test of sorts: A test of faith.
In fact, Jesus said he was glad for our sake that he wasn’t there to heal Lazarus from his illness. He also said that the purpose of Lazarus’s death was to instruct our belief. Imagine the disciples’ confusion when Jesus said that. What kind of lesson required a friend to die?
God always has a plan, and God’s plan is always better than ours. God is never missing in action, even though it may seem that way at times. We think in human terms through our human limitations, but God operates in a realm where the dead can be brought back to life with a simple command. The belief that Jesus wanted us to expand into was the realm of miracles.
Are you still operating in the realm of appearances, trusting only in what you can see and understand? Or have you entered into the realm of miracles, fully convinced that God always has a plan and that nothing is impossible for him?
If you’re born-again, you live in the Kingdom, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve entered into the realm of miracles. Many believers are still like doubting Thomas, wanting to touch Jesus’ open wounds, or they’re like little kids wanting to learn how to ride a bike but screeching every time their father tries to take off their training wheels. And so they wobble along on four wheels, leaning way over to one side, certain they’ve got the hang of riding a two-wheeler.
Pushing into the realm of miracles and finding your faith is like shedding your training wheels and finding your “bike balance”. I still remember the day my father took off my training wheels and ran behind me, holding onto the back of my bike seat. At some point he let go, and without knowing it I was floating along the sidewalk on two wheels all by myself… straight into a neighbour’s front doorsteps. But for the first time in my life, I’d felt the feel of what it felt like to float along on two wheels, and I never went back to training wheels. I’d found my balance on a bike, and that’s something I will never unfind.
Entering into the realm of miracles is similarly definitive. Once you realize that God can do anything at any time, you stop relying on your own limited senses and instead put your trust in God. You just let go and float. That’s the best way I can describe it: You move over a threshold and never want to go back. Trusting means not knowing and not understanding, yet fully believing. I cannot possibly know how God performs miracles, but I know that he does perform them, and that’s enough. Jesus likely didn’t know how God was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but he believed that God could do it, and that was enough. God worked through Jesus’ belief, and he can work through ours, too, if we let him.
If you haven’t yet pushed into the realm of miracles, you need to get there. You need, as the saying goes, to “let go and let God”. You don’t have to know God’s plan or to understand how miracles work; you just have to believe that God does have a plan and that miracles do work. Or you can keep wobbling down the spiritual sidewalk with your spiritual training wheels on, leaning way over to one side and thinking you’ve mastered the faith thing.
God wants to take off your training wheels so he can share more with you and work through you like he worked through Jesus. Will you let him?
Free will is a misnomer. God let us misname it so we’d have the notion that we’re ‘free’. Certainly, we are free, but only in the sense that we can either choose God’s way or not choose God’s way. That’s the extent of our ‘freedom’.
Frankly, I wish I didn’t have even that much freedom. I wish I didn’t have the option to choose against God’s way. Cold, hard, miserable firsthand experience has taught me that every time I choose against God’s way and every time I question him, I’m wrong, and I suffer for it.
This is where faith comes in. Faith doesn’t question. It no longer needs to question. Faith has progressed beyond questioning, in the same way as a child progresses from training wheels to no training wheels when learning to ride a bike. Faith declares: “I’m through with free will! I’m through with questioning!” Faith automatically chooses God’s way because those who choose faith have come to realize that God’s way is always – ALWAYS – best.
When we choose to live by faith, we suspend our free will. We still have free will, but we choose not to use it. It’s like the little kid who keeps the trainer wheels on her bike, even though she doesn’t need them anymore. She can use them if she wants to, but if she falls back to relying on her training wheels, she loses her balance and rides crooked again. She leans heavily to one side or the other, and her progress is slow and ungainly. She’s no longer cycling; she’s in a suspended state of falling.
We can fall back to choosing not to live by faith. We can resort to our squeaky rickety training wheels. We can doubt God. We can question his wisdom and find fault with his methods. But if we do so, we’re always wrong. If nothing else, that’s one thing we can count on – always being wrong if we choose against God.
I’m glad God gave me free will if only just to show me how inferior it is to faith. I’m glad he wants me to freely choose his way rather than to be forced or feel obligated to choose him. I’m glad he lets me make mistakes, and I’m glad he lets me suffer for it. I’m glad he lets me feel the consequences of my actions rather than glossing over my mistakes and pretending everything’s OK. It would be a lot easier for God just to gloss over our mistakes and let us get away with things. Then he wouldn’t have to deal with our tantrums and our sulking. But God is a perfect parent, so he does things the right way, even if they are the hard way for us and for him.
We suffer not because God is sadistic and not because we’re suffering for the good of other people – we suffer because we’ve made mistakes and chosen against God’s way, consciously or unconsciously. We suffer to the precise degree that we’ve earned that suffering — not one ‘ouchie’ more or less.
God’s justice is perfect.
If we’re smart (and God made us to be smart) – if we’re smart, we’ll learn from our mistakes. God is patient. He’s teaching us and he wants us to learn at our own pace. Heaven has very high behavioral standards. Paul gave us a partial list of the types of behaviors that don’t belong in Heaven, and warned us that those who practice those behaviors won’t make it there, no matter how big their congregation is or how much money they’ve donated to charity or how ‘good’ a person they consider themselves to be.
Heaven isn’t a “free gift”: it’s earned by our free will choices. We are rewarded with Heaven not because Jesus sacrificed himself as a repayment for Original Sin but because we’ve shown God, to his satisfaction, that we prefer his way to all others. We show him that we prefer his way by choosing his way, over and over and over and over and over again, to our dying breath.
We choose our way to Heaven. Jesus opened the door, but we have to make the choices that will bring us through that door. Just wanting to go through it is not enough. We have to show, by our free will choices, that we want to go through that door more than through any other door.
There is more of a curse in free will than there is a blessing. It’s best, if and when you can, to move beyond free will to the level of faith where you are no longer tempted to choose against God. Living by faith is how Jesus lived and how Paul lived and how Abraham lived and how Moses lived and how Noah lived. Be like them. Ditch your training wheels, get in the God groove, and roll your way on up to those pearly gates.