When I was 13 my mom had a seizure in the middle of the night. After multiple tests and exploratory surgeries, the neurologists diagnosed her with terminal brain cancer. She had four months to live. As my siblings and I prepared our goodbyes, nearly every church in the county was praying for my mom’s healing.
A year later, the same team of doctors declared my mom in remission. Many people in our small community, convinced of God’s power and His hand in this miracle, came to faith. I was one of them.
It seemed too good, and then it wasn’t. A few years later she began forgetting things. She began telling cashiers at the grocery store personal information and bought the same vacuum cleaner every week. Her surgical scars suddenly opened, and an infection spread through her skull, nearly killing her. After a year in the hospital and countless surgeries, one-third of her skull was permanently removed. Now in her 50s, she lives in an assisted living residence, remembers very little about her life, and cannot function on her own.
Rather than undergoing the quick death of brain cancer, she now suffers the slow death of dementia. The miracle that brought me to faith years ago now brings me to a spiritual crisis. Why would God provide a miracle only to allow even more suffering later on? In John 11, Jesus attends the funeral of His friend Lazarus. Although Jesus was aware that Lazarus lay dying, He intentionally delayed His arrival so that God would be glorified (11:4). Lazarus’ sisters and their fellow mourners all assert that Jesus could have healed Lazarus and spared them their suffering (11:21, 32, 37). In response, Jesus calls Lazarus—rotting and wrapped in burial linen—out of the tomb. Many believe, and God is indeed glorified.
What we are not told is when or how Lazarus died again. There’s no account of him being whisked up to heaven like Enoch or Elijah, so we must assume he died later on. We’re also not told the fate of the others Jesus healed. Did they ever get sick again? They surely died too.
Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is near. He showed us what that kingdom is like: the dead are resurrected, the sick are healed, demons are powerless, creation is restored, and God is worshiped. In his resurrection, Lazarus bore witness to God’s kingdom and power. Was God any less present or powerful when Lazarus died the second time?
We see glimpses of the coming kingdom, but it is not fully here yet. Death has not yet died; sin and brokenness still abound. Sometimes miracles—signs of the coming glory—break into our world and show us that the kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus. But when suffering remains, we wait for complete restoration upon Jesus’ return.
Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ mourners is one of hope. They desire resurrection and life for their brother. Jesus draws them to Himself, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25, emphasis mine). Jesus, the Suffering Servant, is the God who suffers alongside His people. Although He knows that this is not the end for Lazarus, He is “deeply moved” by Mary’s anguish and the sight of His beloved friend’s tomb (11:33, 35, 38).
My mom’s miracle showed my community that God is near and that His kingdom—one without disease or mental illness—is coming in fullness one day. But her dementia reminds me that it is not yet fully here, pushing me to lean into Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who weeps with me as I wait.
Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT).