Hope in the face of death, part 2

I’m not a terribly extraverted person.  I’ve had to learn to adjust to the rhythms and requirements of having a public role.  But by nature, for example, I tend to avoid parties unless I already know many of the people who will be there.  Once I’m actually at the party, I enjoy hearing people’s stories and often have a good time (introverts can learn to be more extraverted).  Yet it still takes energy to be there, and if the truth be told, I sometimes find myself sneaking glances at my watch and wondering how soon I can get out of there.

It would be a pity, though, to approach life itself that way.

I don’t claim that people in general look at life so dourly that they want to leave it.  But in the last post, I noted how our very thoughts of heaven sometimes seem escapist.  It depends on how one compares this life to the life to come; the more we suffer now, the better heaven looks.

To put it differently: sometimes we speak of heaven as if, against the background of a life that has become wearisome, we simply grit our teeth in the present and wait for God to do something–finally.  To be sure, hope, by its very nature, means waiting for a promise that will be fulfilled on some future day.  But the question is whether we believe that God is redemptively at work on this day and in this place.  What can a future-oriented hope mean in the present?

In a memorial service yesterday, having read John 14:1-3 (“In my Father’s house are many mansions,” NKJV), I referred to John 11 and the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.  Why, in that story, did Jesus weep at Lazarus’ tomb?  It can’t be a straightforward case of bereavement, as some of the onlookers thought; after all, Jesus had come to Bethany specifically to perform the miracle.  Then why?

John doesn’t tell us, and nobody can know for certain.  But I believe that Jesus wept, not only out of his love for Lazarus, but his love for his Father.  John tells us that the Son of God–the eternal Word–was the one through whom all things were created, and that in him were life and light (1:3-4).  Jesus knew better than any of us what the beauty of God’s creation was meant to be.  The one who was life (John 11:25) and light (John 8:12) wept at the insult of death and darkness to his Father’s good creation.

And not long after, he took that insult upon himself.

To me, it makes a difference whether we read the words of John 14 in the context of the story of Jesus and Lazarus in John 11.  There is much at stake here in the way we think about heaven and hope alike.

I’ll try to make good on that statement in the next post.