Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead and asks that the stone covering his grave be removed. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, protests that it has been four days since his burial and that there will be a stench. Jesus says “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God.” (John 11:38-43)
Martha is looking at the physical reality of the situation as she knows it. No one has ever walked out of a grave four days after being buried and dead bodies start to smell from decay soon after death. Jesus, however, is looking beyond the limitations of physical reality to demonstrate God’s glory by raising Lazarus from the dead.
How often do we minimize the glory of God by not being able to see beyond some present day physical reality? We may be trying to cope with a difficult boss or a lost job, the prolonged care of a loved one who is ill or who has died, or any number of circumstances that consume all of our energies and leave no room in our perspective beyond the present reality in front of us.
When our daughter, Emily, was born with Down syndrome I was shocked. I didn’t know anything about Down syndrome children, and thought only the worst. After having three older daughters, followed by an eleven year gap, and then a son, we were hoping for the son to have a sibling to grow up with like his older sisters had with one another. Now our plans seemed to be thwarted. I could not see beyond the present reality and cried out to the Lord for understanding. He responded in varying ways, calming my fears and giving me peace.
One of the ways in which he shared his mind with me about his love for his special children was through the words of author Morris West in his book Clowns of God, a book I just happened to pick up randomly and begin to read at a rented beach house when Emily was one. It was a novel about a Pope who had seen a vision of the end times, the imminence of a nuclear war between the U. S. and Russia, and the return of Jesus in the form of a care giver to the Pope. The care giver identifies himself as Jesus the night before war is to break out and he is challenged to prove who he is. He picks up a little girl with Down syndrome, sets her on his lap and says:
“I know what you are thinking. You need a sign. What better one could I give than to make this little one whole and new? I could do it; but I will not. I am the Lord and not a conjuror. I gave this mite a gift I denied to all of you–eternal innocence. To you she looks imperfect—but to me she is flawless, like the bud that dies unopened or the fledgling that falls from the nest to be devoured by the ants. She will never offend me, as all of you have done. She will never pervert or destroy the work of my Father’s hands. She is necessary to you. She will evoke the kindness that will keep you human. Her infirmity will prompt you to gratitude for your own good fortune…More! She will remind you every day that I am who I am, that my ways are not yours, and that the smallest dust mote whirled in the darkest space does not fall out of my hand. I have chosen you. You have not chosen me. This little one is my sign to you. Treasure her!”
In the twenty-eight years since this moment, Emily has taught me as much about God and his ways and his love as anything I have ever read or experienced. When I look back and see the joy, love and understanding she has brought to our family and all who encounter her beautiful smile, her greetings of love and purity of heart, I see the glory of God in our midst.