What a tender story. A story filled with emotion and dramatic tension. The story of two sisters torn by grief and a Savior who loved them yet chose to tarry. Of course, there is more to it—more truths we'll discover as we walk through the forty-four verses John devotes to this tale. For the story of Lazarus is also the story of Jesus's greatest miracle: that of awakening His friend from the dead. (To read the whole story all at once, see Appendix A: "The Story.")

Have you noticed that when Jesus comes on the scene, what seems to be the end is rarely the end? In fact, it's nearly always a new beginning. But Mary and Martha didn't know that at the time. And I'm prone to forget it as well.

Questions and disappointments, sorrow and fear tend to block out the bigger picture in situations like the one we see in Bethany. What do we do when God doesn't come through the way we hoped He would? What should we feel when what is dearest to our hearts is suddenly snatched away? How do we reconcile the love of God with the disappointments we face in life?

Such questions don't have easy answers. However, in this story of Jesus's three friends, I believe we can find clues to help us navigate the unknown and the tragic when we encounter them in our own lives. Tips to help us live in the meantime—that cruel in-between time when we are waiting for God to act—as well as insights to help us trust Him when He doesn't seem to be doing anything at all.

But most important, I believe the story of Lazarus reveals the scandalous availability of God's love if we will only reach out and accept it. Even when we don't deserve it. Even when life is hard and we don't understand. For God's ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us. He knows what He's doing. Even when we can't figure out His math.

Algebra and Me

Arithmetic was always one of my favorite subjects in grade school, one I excelled at. Of course, that was in the last century, before they started introducing algebra in kindergarten. In my post-Leave It to Beaver, yet very serene, childhood, the only equations that wrinkled my nine-year-old forehead were fairly straightforward:

2 + 2 = 4
19 − 7 = 12

Of course, fourth-grade math was more difficult than that. But the basic addition and subtraction skills I'd learned in first and second grade helped me tackle the multiplication and division problems of third and fourth grade with confidence. By the time I reached sixth grade, I was fairly proficient with complicated columns of sums and had pretty much conquered the mysterious world of fractions. I was
amazing—a math whiz.

But then eighth grade dawned and, with it, a very brief introduction to algebra. It all seemed quite silly to me. Who cared what the y factor was? And why on earth would I ever need to know what x + y + z equaled?

When my teacher gave us a high-school placement math exam that spring, I didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out the answers—mainly because I had no idea how, and when I tried, it made my head hurt. Instead, when I encountered a difficult problem during the test, I did what had always worked for me: I looked for a pattern in the answers.

Allowing my mind to back up a bit and my eyes to go a little fuzzy, I'd stare at all those little ovals I'd so neatly darkened in with my number-two pencil until I could see a pattern. I haven't filled in a D for a while. Or, There were two Bs and then two Cs and one A, so obviously this must be another A.

I was amazing at this too.

No, really, I was. Several weeks later when we received the results of our testing, I had been placed not in bonehead math, not even in beginning algebra. No, it was accelerated algebra for me, though I hadn't a clue what I was doing. To this day I still don't. My algebraic cluelessness has followed me through adulthood and on into parenting. My kids can ask an English question, quiz me on history or government, and I can usually give them an answer or at least help them find one. But when it comes to algebra or geometry or calculus or any of those other advanced math classes invented by some sick, twisted Einstein wannabe…well, they'd better go ask their dad.