Not the End of the Story

by Rebekah Bell

I grew up on a Midwestern farm surrounded by golden fields of wheat and pastures dotted with cattle. In the summer I picked warm cherries from the orchard, and in the winter I built snowmen with my siblings. It was an idyllic and carefree childhood. I approached the world with a sense of childlike wonder and awe. I believed that God was great and that the world was good.

Today, the world doesn’t look quite as good as it did when I was a child. I know more now, and it hurts to know more. I often wish I could go back to the innocence of my childhood, even for a day. But that innocence is gone, undermined by every atrocity I hear about—school shootings, child soldiers, rape as a weapon of war. Surrounded by daily reminders of evil and injustice, I am tempted to believe that the world is a lost cause and people are past the point of redemption.

While we necessarily lose our childhood naïveté, as Christians we are admonished not to lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:16). Yet how do we remain hopeful in a world that threatens to overwhelm us with disease, despair, and death? How do we retain hope when each nightly news segment seems worst than the last?

The story of Lazarus in John 11 provides a clue. Devastated by the death of her brother, Martha greets Jesus with this heart-wrenching refrain: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I often think that way. Lord, if you had been here, the drunk driver wouldn’t have run into her. If you had been here, the cancer wouldn’t have killed him. Lord, if you had been here, the gunman wouldn’t have gotten into that school. You are the life-giver, storm-calmer, the death-reverser. If only you had been here… I guess you weren’t here after all.

Martha’s remark makes perfect sense to me, and yet biblical commentators insist that her response reveals her failure to grasp who Jesus truly was. She was right to assume that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death, but she didn’t understand that even if he did not prevent it Jesus was still more powerful than death. This is what I so often forget—that the end of the story is never really the end of the story when Jesus is involved.

When I was 13, I began experiencing severe neurological problems. My parents took me to countless doctors and neurologists, but none could discern what was causing the problems or how to cure them. I cried out to God, begging him to heal me, and heard nothing but silence.

But one day, in the midst of it, I reread the resurrection story. While the Bible details the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday and the jubilee of his resurrection on Sunday, it is strangely silent about Saturday. From my vantage point 2,000 years after the cross, I know that this violent historical moment was redeemed when a good God overturned death itself to give us hope for life beyond this world. I take for granted that Sunday morning will reveal a risen Lord, forgetting what that first Easter weekend would have been like for disciples who were not expecting their beloved teacher to be resurrected. On that Saturday, the disciples didn’t know that the following day would be a game changer for human history. Saturday was to them what many moments of life are like for us: soul-oppressive and dark, with no light in sight. Saturday is the middle of the story.

Jesus responded to Martha’s “Lord-if-you-had-been-here” lament with a succinct but earth-shattering statement: “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Even when God is silent, we have this to hold on to—the knowledge that the story isn’t over yet, the promise of life in the presence of death. This is not a naïve, look-on-the-bright-side hope that ignores reality or trivializes tragedy. This is a hard-fought, white-knuckled hope. This is a deep and difficult hope, one that clings to a good God despite circumstances that will never make sense this side of heaven. This is a hope that rejects Christian clichés in favor of the deeper reality. This is a hope that remembers, as Tony Campolo reminds us, that “it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

Rebekah Bell is a writer and speaker who enjoys encouraging young people to embrace God’s goodness amidst a life of transition.

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