Raising Lazarus from the Dead? Decidedly Death Positive
Death positivity in defense of Martha and Jesus’s grief
The Simeon who saw Jesus is the Bible’s resident death-positive icon, but how would death positivity work for those who have been affected by more difficult deaths? Fortunately, the Bible has an answer for that. The death and raising of Lazarus provide a layout for death positivity when facing these deaths. Although some might say that Lazarus’s resurrection ultimately points to the defeat of death, this story also teaches us that confronting one’s own fear of death is an integral part of trusting God.
When Martha refused to remove from Lazarus from the tomb, she had concerns about the smell. Considering that ancient Israel was a desert and that refrigeration was not available, Martha’s concerns were understandable. However, what Martha did not understand was that Jesus had undone those postmortem changes and that a living, breathing Lazarus would emerge from that tomb. She did not trust Jesus’s promise that Lazarus would not die from his illness.
While it is easy to condemn Martha just by reading this passage, one must remember that she needed to believe that Jesus could do something that was (and is) impossible for any other human to do. In that sense, the tomb was more than just a tomb. The tomb stood as a symbol of the uncomfortable unknowns that go avoided because discussing them rocks the boat. By taking the stone away, Jesus told Christians to confront those unknowns directly whenever possible. Of course, we are never without God’s assistance, but that doesn’t change the fact that confronting the unknown is usually a daunting task.
Think about it this way: Martha had no way of truly knowing whether the live Lazarus was on the other side of the stone. Even by observing Jesus’s other miracles, she could not look for any signs of life by peering into the tomb. She had to trust Jesus and his team enough to let them take away the stone. Martha’s trust that Jesus would reveal the truth outweighed her fear of the unknown. Her faith and desire to know the truth allowed Lazarus to emerge from the tomb.
Of course, any stage of seeking the truth can take a toll on someone emotionally. Jesus wept to mourn the death of his friend Lazarus and out of empathy for Martha. Even though Jesus had not failed to keep that promise, He knew that Martha thought otherwise. That thought still weighed on Him the way it would weigh on anyone else. As one of few passages that mention Jesus displaying strong emotions, it shows that Jesus took on the difficulties of the human condition rather than distancing Himself from them.
In praying for Martha and His team, Jesus had to face His own set of unknowns. He did not know whether God would raise Lazarus from the dead or whether He would instill faith in those who saw this miracle. Seeing Jesus confront one of the most basic human fears through achieving a feat that defies the laws of nature reminds us that God will help us when we take steps of faith, no matter how shaky they may be.