‘Lord, if you had been there’

By Fr. Mark Vander Steeg | April 3, 2014

This weekend’s Gospel recounts the haunting raising of Lazarus from the dead. The Gospel is rich with passages that speak to our own life experiences, hopes and sorrows. The phrase that stands out to me is Martha’s, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This phrase encapsulates the suffering prayer of so many when they turn to God in the face of tragedy or death. We could all hear a loved one in pain praying, “It wouldn’t have gone like this had you really been here God …”

Where is God when things go wrong? God is right here we are told. He is always here. This reality can be hard for all of us to enter. Even as a priest this can be challenge. I have found comfort in some wisdom I heard given to missionaries when they are sent to new and challenging places. “Christ is already there before you arrive and he will remain after you leave, your task is to help reveal his presence.”

The challenge of revealing God in our midst during suffering proves difficult when we equate the presence of God solely with health, blessing, security, life and comfort. The reality of this broken world means that much of our life will not encompass these. There will be suffering. The Christian then is called upon to wrestle with the truth that the “good things” in this life are indeed signs of God’s goodness and of the good things that were intended to be for us from the start, before the fall. They are signs to us of the good things to be restored and fulfilled for us in the life to come. However, God has also allowed in his wisdom that the suffering and death that has entered this world since our fall shall continue until the last day. He has indeed conquered sin and death and suffering through his resurrection, but again, in God’s great wisdom, he has also decreed that these not be erased until the last day.

The Christian then in faith must lean on God heavily, recognizing that God has not erased suffering but has rather entered it through his own cross and suffering and has triumphed over it in his resurrection. God is here in the sorrow and the pain. He did not cause it and does not delight in it, even weeping one might say, as Jesus wept for Lazarus. God doesn’t want suffering to be the last word and has proven this through his resurrection. It seems also true that God can use the suffering he has permitted to continue in this world to actually purify us. This may be in the areas of a purer love, a detachment from passing things or a redirecting of life toward that which is most important, good and lasting. This does not make suffering easy. Yet leaning on God, especially through trials, it is possible to hear Jesus say to us referencing our sufferings, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” God can bring glory out of suffering, but the measure of the glory is sometimes best left to God.

Question for Prayer

1. What are the areas of dying in my life that God wishes to reveal himself as with me?

Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.



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