When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Jn. 11:43
I’m sure you remember times when God seemed to desert you. We all do. At times we all feel lonely, God-forsaken, and deep despair. Clergy experience these as well, perhaps more.
Despair afflicts most lives and certainly in America. In the 2010 census, it revealed depression grew over the previous decade among the young, especially in preschool children. On average 20 percent of us suffer from “anxiety disorders” and 10 percent depression.
Years ago I read a book titled, “When God Doesn’t Answer.” A Roman Catholic priest wrote it describing his experience of praying, wishing for help, and yet nothing happened. Often things got worse. He tried to assure pastors and priests if God doesn’t always answer prayers, they cannot always assure hurting people God will answer theirs.
The story of Lazarus in the Bible Gospel of John deals with depression, the sense of God’s absence, or hopelessness. It’s an old story, going back to ancient Egypt 20,000 years ago. It was a story repeated often in surrounding cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean part of the world.
In the story, two sisters from Bethany named Meri and Merti were in deep despair. Their brother El-Asur-Us was dying. They begged God’s messenger Horus to come and call back El-Asur-Us, or God. He was not responsive their cries. El-Asur-Us means “Father God.” Horus delayed his coming and when he came, El-Asur-Us had died. The stench was noticeable. Horus went to the tomb, however, shouted and called El-Asur-Us back from the dead. Out of the grave he came!
In the similar story from John’s gospel, which many scholars agree is an allegory or myth rather than historical, the names and themes are similar. Sister Mary and Martha are concerned their brother Lazarus is sick unto death. They sent word to Jesus to come. However, Jesus delayed, and finally arrived to discover Lazarus had already died and been placed in a grave.
Mary and Martha represent us in our times of despair and loneliness. We may pray and call for a spiritual teacher to come offer prayers for healing. The teacher may delay or be late in arriving, or never show up! Maybe the teacher wants us to realize healing can only come from within one’s self. He or she can help with reminders but the choice needs to come from the hurting ones with support of friends and teachers.
People around the world hurt as they have from time immemorial. They feel despair remembering thousands killed in recent earthquakes, cities bombed to ashes, millions murdered in concentration camps because of race, millions tricked into slavery, their cultures destroyed. Their God, whatever its name, seemed to turn his back on them.
Today many churches feel God abandoned them. An average of 3500 churches continue closing each year, churches once vibrant and excited about “God’s blessings.” Some struggle to keep hope alive, others give up and walk away. Where is God?
There are thousands of people who have given up on God or a Supreme Being: the sick, bereaved, those losing jobs, people with marriages breaking apart, children left alone without guidance, the poor growing hopeless and cynical. Where IS God, El-Asur-us, in all this? He’s been gone so long the stench daily increases! He needs to be awakened.
We remember, however, the world of form, including bodies and buildings, is a fairly hopeless situation. We become stuck or attached to them. We forget they all are but dust. As Emily Dickenson wrote,
“This dust is gentlemen and ladies, and lads and girls;
Was laughter and ability and sighing, And frocks and curls!”
Outside of knowing ourselves as Spirit, there is no hope. Our lives are “tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!”
The world is our dream, not God’s. God is Spirit, an Existence or Mind within a different dimension. As Spirit, how could God create that which is material and ephemeral? But how did this material world and universe arise? As ancient mystics and now even science tells us, this world is but the creation of our minds! It’s a dream! It’s illusion! God created us as Spirit but then, as Blaise Paschal wrote, “We returned the favor” by making God in our temporal image, blaming Him for the mess in which we find ourselves.
In the epistle of 1st John, we read, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
This doesn’t mean we hate the world but we recognize it for what it is, “not of the Father” but part of our dream of bodies and temporal forms. We love the world by forgiving ourselves for blindness, for sleep. We awaken to ourselves as God bearers, Spirit within temporal bodies but not of them. The Word, the Spirit of God, the Presence is eternal. We are that Spirit. God is with us, IS us.
In the today’s story, Jesus calls Lazarus, or the sleeping God, back to the hurting, despairing sisters. It’s a story about our ability to wake up. It is our prayer, “God! Come back to me! Come back to my awareness!” Lazarus is a story of our “dying God.” It’s a metaphor of our lives, our need to “call God back” in times of meditation, prayer, reading, and surrender. It is a call to give without expectations to help others. It is a call to live our lives without anger, judgment, and cynicism, which create negativity and hopelessness among family and friends. Calling God back is recognizing our home, our being not of this world.
“Father God,” El-Asur-us, come to us again this day and cleanse our minds of fear. Keep our eyes fixed on that which is eternal, the Core within, ever present amid the unspeakable, unending suffering of this mortal world.
“O God, our help, in ages past, Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard whole life shall last, and our eternal Home.” Isaac Watts, 1719