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Karma, Lazarus, and the Need to Die.

Posted on Mar 28, 2017 by in The Scrawl |

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Karma is remarkably false. Like Scientology, karma presents an entirely and demonstrably fake worldview that anyone who has been alive for longer than a month or so can easily identify. Want to know my shameful quasi-secret? I wish it wasn’t so.

I wish karma were real. We all do, at some level. And, I would argue, we all still believe it is real even though we can prove it wrong almost instantly. So why do we want karma to be real? If it’s so clearly false, why would we hope for it to be real? Why would we live as though it were?

Kids get cancer.

That’s a reality that every human being lives with, each and every day. It’s not a debatable point, it’s just a truly horrific fact. But if karma were real, the answer would be that this kid did something to deserve it.

So why/how do we want it to be real? We want to believe that our striving, our hard work, our perseverance will pay out. We want to believe that good things happen to good people because way down deep we genuinely believe we are those good people. I have never met a person who, outside of being confronted by the gospel, thought they were a bad person. They might feel guilt for things they have done or failed to do, but at the core of who they are, they still revel in what they are, what they have done.

Why? Because only the gospel ever tells us the true state of ourselves. Karma undergirds our ideal self without ever letting us be honest. It doesn’t have to. Because we can always just pay it back. We can always figure out a way to be holy, a way to be good, even if that’s just fudging the historical details to spin it a little.

But I have a thought and a story that, I think, puts the whole sovereignty of God against the pride of man, in right perspective.

John 11:1-6

The Death of Lazarus

[1] Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [2] It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. [3] So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” [4] But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

[5] Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [6] So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (ESV)

For Christians, this is almost old hat. This is so familiar that most people look at it and go, “Meh.” Which is astounding given the complex nature of all the things going on here. Let me break it down.

  1. Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, gets really sick.
  2. His sisters send to Jesus and ask for His help.
  3. Jesus tells them Lazarus wasn’t so sick that it would lead “to” death.
    1. God was going to get glory from it, somehow.
  4. Because Jesus loved these people, he stayed longer than he could have.
  5. (Not in the text I quoted above, but) Lazarus dies.

Again, this is one of those pinnacle moments that Christians point to as super cool Jesus magic. Like, “You see that? I bet David Blaine couldn’t do that!” And because of the miraculous nature of what happened, they miss a structural element to all of Christianity.

Jesus loved Lazarus so much, He let Lazarus die.

Do you get that? Jesus looked at His friend, and His friend’s sisters, and said, “My glory is more important than Lazarus’s physical life and I love Lazarus too much to let him miss this.”

This is unsettling. You may or may not have seen my Twitter/Facebook header with the words on it, “Lazarus must die.” Let me tell you how that came to be.

The Sunday before I left the church that I attended before I planted a church (that’s confusing I know), the Sunday school lesson was on Lazarus. I remember because, for some reason, we broke off into small groups. It was me, my wife, and another couple discussing Lazarus. As we began discussing it, I realized that Jesus was after something bigger than Lazarus’ healing. And that the pain and suffering of all those involved was subject to that list of priority. And that, my friends, is not fair.

It’s not karmic. Lazarus didn’t do anything wrong, per se. He didn’t ask for anything wrong. He didn’t sin his way into sickness. He didn’t wait too long to ask God for healing. He didn’t disbelieve that Jesus could really heal him. All the boxes were checked. And still, Lazarus had to die.


Why on earth would God do that to him? Not just let him suffer in sickness. Not just let his sisters watch the light go out of his eyes. Why would God let Lazarus go through all of that?

Because God isn’t interested in some glory. I tweeted yesterday that God isn’t interested in the sliver of glory left over after your victory lap. God’s way is that He gets all the glory. Maximum glory, in other words. He isn’t interested in you proving or disproving Him and He isn’t interested in what you think of that. He could have miraculously healed Lazarus but, because He loves us(Lazarus), Lazarus(we) must die.

God wants to give you more joy than you can imagine. And you cannot access that joy, you cannot connect to it, without letting go of your glory and giving it to Him.

Real talk? I sort of hate this. I told my wife this morning, half-joking, that I wish I could just get paid for doing nothing. I joke because that’s partially true and partially not. I know better, but there is a part of my heart that assures me that if life in this world was easier, I would be happier.

Except I know, I really truly know, that God is less concerned with my comfort than His glory, and my joy. And so, Lazarus must die.