Looking at the story of Lazarus, we see that we can’t dichotomize the broken-hearted love of Jesus and his intentional, sovereign allowance of tragedy.
Jesus is told in John 11:3 that Lazarus is ill. He responds by saying, “This isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” From this it seems Jesus is going to heal Lazarus. But the story takes a strange turn. John surprises us, “When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was.” (6)
He waits two days and decides then to go see Lazarus. He says he is going to “wake him up.” (11) From this his disciples assume Lazarus is in a deep sleep, but Jesus tells them, “Lazarus has died. For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.” (15)
As Jesus approaches the tomb, he began to cry. Some responded, “See how much he loved him!” Others, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” (37) These latter folks assumed that, because Jesus had essentially allowed Lazarus to die, that he either didn’t love him or didn’t have the power to prevent his death.
Jesus comes to the tomb and is deeply disturbed. He chides Martha, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” (40) And then he brings Lazarus back to life by this effortless, awesome power of his word: “Lazarus, come out!” (43)
When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he intentionally stayed where he was instead of promptly intervening. He even said, “I’m glad I wasn’t there.” Not out of cruelty, but out of gracious purpose. Lazarus died and Jesus not only allowed it, but in a deeper way intended it. Jesus had a bigger plan: “It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” God’s invisible hand is at work behind it all (Amos 3:6, Romans 8:28), and he weeps.