Grave Clothes Optional

Jesus Answers the Question, “Where is God in a Coronavirus World?”

What emotions are you feeling these days? Are you sad? Angry? Lonely? Fearful? Fed up or confused? Completely at a loss as to what to believe with so much conflicting information coming at you from all sides? Maybe you like the imposed pause from an otherwise overcrowded schedule. Maybe you’ve had moments of all of the above. I know I have.

If so, Dr. John Lennox’s just-off-the-press little book,  Where is God in a Coronavirus World?(a booklet, really; just 64 pages), may help you see your way through the swirl of emotional currents. Here’s a window into it, based on his discussion with Justin Brierley on Brierley's Unbelievable? podcast.

“This kind of issue, a pandemic, raises huge questions,” he said. Atheists will see it as just another proof that their worldview of atheism is true. And although he’s eminently qualified to tackle the intellectual questions, having participated in public debates with some of the world’s most acclaimed atheists, in talking with Brierley, he focused on the emotional distress it has caused – the loneliness of isolation and the grief, not just the grievousness of sickness and death, but the tragedy of people dying alone. Where is God in all of this? is the question that emerges when people are in pain.

To set that question in perspective, Lennox turned to the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The gospel writer John tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. But when he received word that Lazarus was ill, he did not go to them right away. Instead, he stayed where he was for two more days. By the time he neared their hometown of Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days.

Martha was the first to come out to meet him. “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus said. Martha responded to the effect that, yes, she already knew that. Next, Mary came out and fell at his feet in tears. If you grew up in church or you’re familiar with the gospel accounts, you know what’s about to happen. But before skipping on to what comes next, Dr. Lennox pointed out two things we should not miss.

First, Jesus didn’t simply say to Martha, “Lazarus” will rise again, but “your brother” will rise again. Not only did Jesus affirm for us that there will be a resurrection, but we can infer from this that our relationships will in some way be preserved and transformed. What this means is that, not only is death a temporary separation, but there is some kind of continuity between the life we live now and the life we will live then.

But there’s more in this text than just words about the future. After Mary came out, John tells us that:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.

“The fact that Jesus wept,” said Lennox, “just shows the range of empathy he had with people who were in this little tragedy. People say, look, that’s got nothing to do with the pandemic. My view is, it has everything to do with the pandemic – because the suffering in a pandemic is the sum total of individuals suffering personal tragedies.”

Nonbelievers have cited evil and suffering as evidence against a loving God for centuries. But here we see Jesus weeping with the bereaved. Atheists tell us that, not only is suffering inevitable, but death is the end of everything for everyone. Christianity tells us something vastly different – yes, suffering is inevitable, but neither suffering nor death has the last word.

Instead, Christianity tells us that God himself, far from standing off in indifference, actually entered into our suffering. Even more than that, he took it onto himself and made it so that life, rather than death, would have the final say. The most profound statement Jesus made during that encounter seemed to go right over the heads of the people mourning around him:

I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

And then, as if to demonstrate that all this wasn’t empty talk, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb – and Lazarus walked out, dragging strips of linen from his hands and feet, and with a cloth around his face. “Take off the grave clothes and let him go,” Jesus said.

I still don’t like a lot of the things I see going on around me. I still feel a range of emotions I would prefer not to have to navigate. And still I have a lot of unanswered questions. But I have a Friend in high places who has already faced down my biggest problem and neutralized it for me. And so, I have a wider perspective. It may feel like he’s tarrying, but he will see me through this thing, one way or another. As far as he is concerned, I am not disposable. My grave clothes are.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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