Faith: Confident Uncertainty
In John 11:21, Martha expresses her grief over the death of her brother, Lazarus, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then, she quickly adds that she has not lost hope in Jesus’ power: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). This is a striking affirmation of her faith in Jesus in the midst of the uncertainty after her brother’s death.
What exactly does Martha think that Jesus might do?
Martha’s Confident Uncertainty
It doesn’t seem that Martha believes unwaveringly that Jesus will raise Lazarus up from the dead, since when Jesus assures her that “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23), Martha can only respond by speaking of her future hope: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). Furthermore, when Jesus later instructs the Jews to take away the stone, it is Martha who warns Jesus, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).
Martha is entirely uncertain about what Jesus may or may not do; however, she is confident in Jesus.
Abraham’s Confident Uncertainty
In my judgment, Martha’s words sound like the words of Abraham in another passage about gaining back a family member from the dead. In Genesis 22, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac to test Abraham’s obedience. By faith, Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:19).
In other words, Abraham did not believe that he would avoid the horror of sacrificing his beloved son. Instead, he believed that God would then raise his son from the dead after he sacrificed him. Figuratively speaking, when God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac and provided a substitute, sacrificial lamb (Gen. 22:10–13), God did raise Isaac up from the dead.
Nevertheless, before that moment, as Abraham and his son made their way up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked where the lamb for the sacrifice was. Abraham was uncertain, but his words are confident: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8). Like Martha, Abraham was uncertain about what was going to happen, but he was confident that God would provide.
All Faith is Confident Uncertainty
All faith is characterized by confident uncertainty. We do not know how God will work, and we do not feel entitled to a sign and wonder at every turn. Nevertheless, we are confident in the power and goodness of God toward us. God will glorify himself, and he will do so for our good, no matter what path we must take through the valley of the shadow of death.
Where is your life uncertain right now? How is Jesus shepherding you to be confident in him in the midst of that uncertainty?