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  • Grace B-P Contributor

Does God Play Favourites?

By Craig Turnbull

Photo by Jonathan Borba:

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:5-6)

What would it look like to build a picture of God—a theology—from just these verses? It would be odd, to say the least. This hypothetical nano-Bible seems to communicate that Jesus had a dying friend, and did nothing. Jesus might be thought to appear selfish or even cruel.

Jesus’ delay forced his friends to go through deep pain. No doubt there was weeping at a bedside, the notifying of relatives and loved ones, the lengthy process of burial preparation, the burial, and even the gutted hollowness of the day after. Jesus’ delay led them into pain. He could have prevented the pain, but he chose not to.

What are we to make of this?

I would like to suggest that even this single verse has a lot to tell us about how God treats his children. In these words, there is a concentrated comfort for the child of God in whatever painful circumstances they are facing. God plays favourites, but not in the way you think. To understand this properly, we need to know why Jesus delayed.

The Children Always Get More

With gratitude, we have all the Bible to provide us with a more robust view of the Lord; not only that, we have the glorious end of this particular story. Lazarus is brought back from death by Jesus, and we cherish this miraculous account as yet one more instance of the Lord’s unstoppable power.

So, why the initial delay?

It wasn’t because Jesus thought his friend would get better, or because he didn’t care about them, or because he was too busy. We already know he loved them, “so he…stayed.” In fact, it was precisely because he loved them that he stayed.

Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and so, he stayed in order that they would get more.

Jesus would give them something much more valuable than just a healing, he would present himself—the immortal conqueror of death, the resurrection, and the life—before their very eyes.

They would see Lazarus rise from the dead, and they would behold the power of Jesus over death, doing it for “the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v 4). Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and even the disciples would get to witness all of this because Jesus loved them dearly. After seeing Jesus manhandle death like this, how could they attend another funeral the same way again?

God is Not Passive Towards Our Pain

Can you relate to the delay? Perhaps even right now you are pleading with God for something, and it isn’t just a fulfillment of desires or a selfish pursuit for more to jam into your garage.

Your pleading with God may not even be about you but someone you love deeply. And if those prayers were answered you are convinced it would be something that would truly please and honour God: “Lord, please heal, please help, please change things, please stop this, please fix this…” You’ve been there, or maybe you are there in the delay right now, and you can personalize John 11:5- 5:

“Now Jesus loved (insert your name here),

So, when he heard (insert your pain here), he delayed doing anything.”

With our complete Bible, we understand more fully that God always acts perfectly, with pinpoint precision timing, and yet from our perspective, he often appears to delay. In that delay, we can misinterpret and build crooked theological interpretations based on circumstances, and not truth. We say things like, “God doesn’t understand,” “God doesn’t know,” and worst of all, “God doesn’t love me.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

While none can safely plumb the infinite thoughts and intentions of the Lord, John 11 does provide deep comfort in our darkest moments. This passage reminds us that the Lord is anything but passive toward our pain.

In fact, he willingly walks into our deepest hurts and confusions and weeps alongside us, and because he loves you, you get more. You get a deeper, abiding sense of his greater presence, and his watchful care as you are drawn in dependence to him.

You get his power displayed in and through your weakness. Not only that, but you get your fingers pulled away from a world that disappoints to the eternal God over his Kingdom that never will. You may even get the miracle you are so hungry for.

God loves you. So you get more. He plays favourites with his kids.

Article excerpt taken from The Gospel Coalition (U.S. Edition). Read the full resource here:

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