Love Is Not An Exemption

John 11:1, 5 “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany,… Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister (Mary) and Lazarus.”

I’m not sure where the idea first took root. I just know it’s there. Honestly though, I can’t point the finger. I wrestle with it in my own life. And I know from 20 years of ministry that many others also struggle with it. The Bible certainly does not teach it to be true but yet… it seems so reasonable, so natural that our minds and hearts readily and eagerly embrace it as fact. What is this issue? It’s the mistaken notion that God’s love is an exemption from suffering.

Within each of us there is the yearning, the hope that the love of God will serve as a protective insulation in our lives. We want it to be true. We long for it to be a reality. We might not verbalize it but our hope is that once we have come to the Cross we will from that point forward be exempt from the hardships of life. Free from pain. Free from suffering. Free from trouble, trials, and tribulation. Honestly? It’s sounds great. But it’s just not true. There are no “Get Out of Suffering Free” cards in the game of life.

If we have ever entertained any doubts regarding the reality of suffering in this life, we need only look at John 11 to find immediate clarification. The opening verses of John 11 make two things evidently clear to us.

  • God is love. Lazarus and his sisters were loved by Jesus. In fact, John goes out of his way to communicate that point. Note the way in which the text repeatedly refers to them by name. These are not anonymous people. They were intimate with Jesus. John reminds us that this was the family who possessed a special history with the Master. Mary was the very one who would be renown for her extravagant act of love and worship. Finally, John actually states the obvious just in case we were still uncertain. The text declares it point-blank. “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
  • Suffering is a part of life. Lazarus was sick. Martha and Mary were concerned. In time Lazarus died and his sisters would be filled with grief. Their relationship with Jesus did not exempt them from suffering and loss. They still had to face sickness. They still had to struggle with despair. Don’t allow your knowledge of this story’s ending to somehow minimize the pain that this family encountered. 4 times the Bible tells us Lazarus was sick. This was not some minor ailment. It was serious enough that the sisters solicited Jesus’ intervention. Lazarus’ illness was real. So real that he eventually died. Surely we can all identify with the feelings that must have confronted the sisters. Suffering had come to them in the most painful way imaginable.

Nowhere does the Bible tell us that our faith will somehow exempt us from suffering. The Bible repeatedly tells us to expect adversity, trouble and tribulation in this life. Jesus declared to His disciples, “In the world you have tribulation,…” Peter tells us, “…even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,…” James goes as far as to tell us, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” On this side of eternity we will know pain. We will know tears. We will experience death. It is part of the common human experience. As long as we are living in this fallen world we are going to experience hurt, loss and grief.

I know. This doesn’t sound very hopeful or helpful at all. Not too many people highlight the verses that promise suffering in this life. But bear with me just a moment. So many times we suffer unnecessary heartache because of false expectations. We look at our circumstances and we mistakenly assume that our present struggles are proof that God doesn’t love us. We listen to the lies of enemy and start believing that our trials and tribulations have befallen us because we have fallen out of favor with God. How tragic!

In closing, I want to remind you that God loves you. He always has. And He always will. Nothing can change that truth. Secondly, your present crisis is not the end of the story. Lazarus’ sickness and death were just the beginning of God’s greater work. God’s purposes had yet to unfold. His plan had yet to be revealed. The pain of the opening verses was simply setting the stage for a greater revelation. That same promise holds true for each of us. No, love is not an exemption. Suffering will come to all of us at some point. But in the end His love will win out. In the end God’s love will have the final word.