Lazarus Moments

by Becky Valentine, M.A.

I awoke this morning to a horrible story in the news about a man who was swallowed by a sinkhole that opened beneath his bedroom before dawn while he slept. The interview with his brother who tried to rescue him was heartbreaking. The man could not be saved. His brother recounted the scene—the screams from within the vanishing earth, and the desperate, futile clawing at the soil and debris. I can hardly think of a more terrifying way to die, or to see one die.

Instantly, my thoughts turned inward, to potential sinkholes in my heart. I have dropped through the floor a few times in life. Each time, it felt like death. And, indeed, some parts of me did die. It is truly terrifying to experience the collapse of one’s own soul. When God seems absent at best, malicious at worst, but for all intents and purposes dangerous and untrustworthy, where do we go? In whom, or in what do we trust? Are we without hope as the dead man who disappeared while sleeping? It feels like it.

And yet, at the risk of spouting clichés, these descents into darkness have the potential to be our Lazarus moments. As believers in Christ, we can know that falling into a pit is not where the story ends. Whether the sinkhole is of our own making, or one caused by someone else, Jesus does not intend to leave us in the grave.

God is, in fact, at work in several ways. He “redeems us from the pit with love and compassion” (Psalm 103:4) when our worlds collapse. And he seeks to strengthen our relationship with him by “rooting and grounding us in love “(Ephesians 3:17) so we won’t fall through the floor the next time the earth moves.

When our foundations give way beneath us, it is a frightening and disorienting experience. Often, the circumstances cause us to doubt God’s tenderness and compassion toward us. We are easily disillusioned. But where there is disillusionment, there is hope! We don’t have to claw at the soil and debris with futility forever.

In his book The Lazarus Life, Stephen W. Smith says, “disillusionment is normally used in a negative context as in being disappointed and in despair about something. But disillusionment has the potential of being a positive experience.” He goes on to say that “illusions breed false hope and false life.” The man who died this morning went to sleep last night in his bedroom with the illusion that the ground beneath him was solid. That turned out to be a false hope. Disillusionment—in this case, learning the truth about the sinkhole before he went to sleep—would have saved his life.

The first time I recall really falling through the floor, I was in my late 20’s. The illusion by which I was living included a piece of a lie that seemed very much like truth when I first believed it as a child (i.e. a sinkhole waiting to happen). The illusion was this: I want to please God more than anything in the world. Obeying God pleases him. Even if I have to die a horrible death, I will choose to follow Jesus forever (I was very dramatic as a 7-year-old when I first made this vow). This will please God and he will certainly love me. However, as I grew, I encountered a big problem: No matter how hard I try, I cannot stop sinning. That is disobedience. I am unable to please God. I am disgusted with myself. God must be disgusted too. If God is disgusted, there is no hope. I am unlovable.

That is when the sinkhole of clinical depression opened up inside me. I was swallowed by a deep and pervasive despair that felt like death. But it was a death that ultimately led to life. My understanding of the Gospel was flawed. In an effort to please God, I missed knowing him. Had I known him, I would have realized that his love was unrelenting and did not hinge on my performance. There was a massive hole in my soul, void of God’s abiding love and presence. So, my life was sucked into blackness. Yet it was in the depths, when I felt the most unlovable, that I discovered God’s love. A Lazarus moment! I did not stay in the tomb.

Since that time, I have learned to tend to my soul more compassionately and to ask God to reveal hollow places in my heart where his love has not yet touched, changed or filled me. I am learning to welcome the Spirit’s probes as well as his renovation crew (my community, the body of Christ) as God works on strengthening my foundation. It can hurt. It can be scary. But the disruption is eventually welcomed because I know now that pain and disillusionment are doorways to a deeper, richer relationship with my Heavenly Father.

The news this morning was tragic. But through it, God offered a reminder: He loves us too much to sing us to sleep with the illusion of safety when we are actually in danger. He will risk our fury by awakening us to the threat of unaddressed sin that has the power to engulf us. He will allow us to experience the death of a false hope and even disrupt our sense of security so he can tend to unhealed wounds. He will dig around, poking at shaky spots in our foundation to unearth the ways we hide from his love or live shackled by fear. And even if (when) a sinkhole opens up and we fall inside, we are not lost. God’s love extends beneath the abyss. Just like Lazarus, we are brought from death to life.

Categories Article | Tags: | Posted on March 11, 2013

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