Category : Evil

Raising of Lazarus Van Gogh via flickr
Divine Providence, Evil, Grace, Hope, Lent, Passion, Scripture, Suffering, Transformation

Being Real, Having Hope, and Lazarus

The other day, I talked about the need to reevaluate lent. The lenten practice that I’ve found really helpful, especially in this time of pandemic, is both being real and having hope, understanding that it’s important to do both together. It’s a practice that the Scripture story of the “Raising of Lazarus” has really helped me understand and practice.

Being Real and Having Hope

By “be real,” I mean to courageously acknowledge the truth of what is going on – in the world, in my community, and in my home – which includes honestly accounting for feelings, whether anxiety and sadness or laughter and love. Therein, it’s the humility to be real with both joys and sorrows… with both success and struggle… with both death and Resurrection… with myself, with others (including my kids) and with God.

By “have hope,” I mean to continually have faith in the transforming power of God in the Paschal Mystery. To hope is to both trust in God and to actively cooperate with God’s grace. Hope is a bit of an elusive virtue for many of us. We tend to take it to one of two unhelpful extremes, with either too much reliance on self (while lacking trust in God) or too much professed reliance on God (without bothering to discern how God may be calling us to cooperate with grace).

Hope Virtue with Extremes

I need to, I want to, and I have to do both: be real and have hope. To only focus on one without the other leads to more unhealthy extremes: negativity-and-panic… or saccharine-sweet-rainbow-unicorns. (Read more about the virtue of hope here.)

The Raising of Lazarus

The Gospel for the 5th Sunday in Lent, the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45), speaks to both “being real” and “having hope.”

Jesus receives word from his good friends, Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus is ill. But instead of rushing off, Jesus curiously stays where he is for two more days. By the time they arrive in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days. First Martha (v.21) and then Mary (v.32) each greet Jesus by, saying If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

How many times have we similarly lamented, “Why? Why didn’t God do something to stop this?” Even now, amid the Coronavirus pandemic, how many of us have wondered “Why has God allowed this to happen?!”

In The Passion and the Cross, Ronald Rolheiser, OMI redirects our “Whys?” simply and succinctly: Because our God is a fellow-sufferer and a Redeemer, not a Rescuer.

“God doesn’t ordinarily intervene to save us from humiliation, pain, and death; rather, he redeems humiliation, pain, and death after the fact” (38).

Honestly articulating our questions and struggles directly to Jesus is being real, but Martha and Mary don’t stop there. They don’t just speak their sorrow. Immediately following her lament, “If you had been here…” Martha models having hope: “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (John 11:22).

And Jesus. Even though he knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, we find Jesus deeply troubled by the reality of the situation. It’s here that we read the shortest verse in all of Scripture, “And Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Talk about being real with emotion!

Having hope in a God who Redeems (not rescues) means that things might not unfold as we would expect. Things certainly didn’t unfold the way Martha and Mary expected. Nor did things unfold the way the disciples expected following the Crucifixion.

Having hope in a God who Redeems means we are open to goodness and grace – especially when we least expect it!

(More on that in the next post!)

  • Are you able to be real and have hope about your joys and sorrows in the midst of all that is going on? (Or do you find yourself going to unhelpful extremes?)
  • Do you expect God to be a rescuer?

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sensei wu
Divine Providence, Evil, Transformation

Change Anything, Change Everything

My LEGO loving boys have been watching the Ninjago series on Netflix.  One recent episode captured more of my attention than I would readily admit in certain social circles.

In the episode “Wrong Place, Wrong Time,” the bad guy (Lord Garmadon) wishes that the good guys (Ninjas) never existed, so he goes back in time to make it so.  The Ninjas follow him, intending to save the day, but are warned by their mentor (Sensei Wu) that if they change anything, they change everything.

The episode reminded me of a conversation I had with my Grandmom in one of her last visits to my house.


“Kid, there were some difficult times in my life.  I’ll tell you.  1936 was hard.  Extremely hard.  But let me just say this: I have no regrets.  Isn’t that something?  At my age [83]?  No regrets.”  She paused and turned to look at me, “Can you say the same for yourself? Do you have any regrets?”

I looked at her with tears in my eyes.  “No.  I can’t say that.  I do have a huge regret.  My first marriage was a huge mistake.  I regret that it ever happened.  I regret making that choice.  With every fiber of my being, I regret that.”

Grandmom does this vice grip pinch of my upper arm with surprising strength for a feeble old lady and tells me, “I’m not saying I never made any mistakes.  Kid, I made plenty of mistakes.  PLENTY.  Ask anyone.  I’m talking REGRETS.”

“I know, Grandmom.  I do.  I wish it wasn’t a regret.  But it is.”

“I hope one day you change your mind.  I hope one day you can get to my age and say that you have no regrets.  Because that’s really something.”

Grandmom died December 8, 2011, still having no regrets.


So as I sat in the dining room, sipping my tea and finishing breakfast, I hear Sensei Wu tell the Ninjas that if you change anything, you change everything. And I finally got it.

Regret and Remorse

Regret and remorse are two different things.  I have sincere remorse for the series of well-intentioned, yet ill-informed decisions that led to one of the lowest point in my life.  I am deeply sorry.  The turmoil, crisis, depression… I am very sorry.

But Grandmom was talking about the kind of regret that wipes the event off the face of the earth.  And as Sensei Wu said, change anything, change everything.

My husband… my boys… my friends… my community… my personal and spiritual growth… No.  I don’t want to risk changing who, and what, and where I am now.  So I’m making peace with how I got here.

I’m getting closer to telling Grandmom, “No. I don’t have any regrets.”  And I hear her saying, “That’s good, kid.  That’s great!”  (Though, the imaginary vice grip hurts a lot less than the real one.)

A Caveat – on Divine Providence and Evil 

As I note that I wouldn’t trade any of the goodness in my life, even to remove my deepest remorse, I feel the need to address one of my personal pet peeves.  The expression “Everything happens for a reason.”  I hate it.

Imagine a rape survivor hearing that.  Or a Holocaust survivor.

I want to think that the sentiment people are trying to express is one of hope… but something gets lost in the translation.

Allow me to get all Catholic on you and pull out my Catechism.  In the section on Divine Providence and the Scandal of Evil (See CCC, 309-314), the Catechism lays it out:

  • God is all good
  • God does not cause evil to happen
  • Evil happens

Then, paragraph CCC, 311 quotes St. Augustine:
For almighty God…because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.

So God didn’t cause the bad things to happen to you or me or anyone else.  Everything happens for a reason?  NO!

It’s more like: When life gives you lemons, God–as only God can do–makes the best divine lemonade you could possibly imagine.

God–and only God–can transform evil into something good.  I mean look what he did with the Crucifixion.  That’s some pretty good Divine Lemonade right there.

I digress.

And I hope you don’t have any regrets either.  Let’s all make Grandmom proud.

Lego Ninjago spy by Kristina Alexanderson licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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