A vast, white wasteland covers the landscape in front of me. Desolate. Barren. Void of life. In the distance, I hear a cold breath of wind snake through the stiff beams of frozen trees and watch as its tentacles, laced with snow, blow across the panorama held in winter’s icy grip. I have only a moment to hide my face in the recesses of my scarf before I am wrapped in the clutches of a miniature cyclone. I shiver as its breath swirls around me, pressing inward as if seeking to retract any warmth that it can find. Finally, its grip loosens, releasing me. I watch as its serpentine fingers trail along the frozen ground before vanishing like a mist.
Then, all is silent and still, yet the cold remains. Overhead the clouds gather, hiding the sun and casting the brilliant white of the snow in a cloak of ashen grey. I climb one of the frozen snowbanks that outline the uphill road upon which I must soon tread, but for this moment, I choose to pause. The snow crunches under me as I sit down, and I let my feet dangle, suspended in mid-air, as I consider the path set before me. Cold and colorless, it has been carved out of the vast wilderness of snow and is devoid of life.
For a moment, the clouds retreat, and the ashen pallor is lifted. Flakes of snow glitter in the sun’s rays. One, in particular, catches my attention. It flashes with brilliant hues of purple and blue. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, its vivid luminosity is veiled as the cloak of grey once again descends.
As I sit, I contemplate the plight of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus was sick. How that must have shaken their world, for it seems that as siblings, they were close and actively involved in each other’s lives. What caused the sickness that came upon Lazarus? We are not told. Did it come upon him quickly, or had he suffered for some time? Again, we don’t know. But, no doubt, as they watched the ashen pallor and the life retreating from their brother, they were desperate to do something to help him, to stop the progression of the sickness. So, they sent word to their friend, their Lord, and the one whom they knew would be well-able to help.
“Lord, the one you love is sick.”
Much anticipation would have accompanied that urgent message. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were close friends with Jesus, so much so they identified Lazarus as the one whom Jesus loved. Surely, Jesus would come and aid them in their time of need. This thought must have been a breath of hope in the cold and desperate situation that was their reality.
But somewhere between the message being sent and Jesus arriving, hope was extinguished as death came knocking, claiming the life of Lazarus. He was laid to rest in a tomb. What thoughts and anguish must have filled Mary and Martha’s hearts as they watched the stone roll into place, sealing their brother that cold, dark place. Although they still walked in the realm of light, their world must have seemed so cold. So empty.
And so full of questions. Why hadn’t Jesus come? Why hadn’t he stopped this from happening? Why did it take four long and painful days after the death of Lazarus for Jesus to arrive? Why the absence? Why the silence? Why did he allow them to traverse this dark valley when he could have stopped it? Why did he permit them to go through the loss of their brother without being there for them? These questions were weighty upon their hearts, for when they saw Jesus, the first words Mary and Martha spoke were identical.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus knew who Jesus was. They believed that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, who is come into the world. They believed in the sure hope of a future resurrection. They loved him and knew that they were loved by him. Yet, Jesus allowed them to traverse through this challenging period without his comforting presence.
It must have been such a cold silence.
But, John 11 records that this cold silence was not without a purpose. Though they knew they were loved by Jesus as a friend (“Phileo” or brotherly love is the word for love that Mary and Martha used in their message to Jesus – John 11:3), Jesus also loved them with agapao love (John 11:5). In the New Testament, “agapao” love is linked with belief and faith (John 3:16). Along with the glory of God, it was the growth of Mary and Martha’s faith – and the faith of many others (including us centuries later) – that was the focus of Jesus’ purpose in this cold silence. He would allow them to know first-hand that he is the resurrection and the life. They would experience this truth in living color when Lazarus walked out of the tomb.
They shed many tears through the night of a long, cold silence, but the frozen winter melted away when their joy came in the morning as Jesus uttered the words, “Lazarus, come forth!” It was a joy that would not have been experienced had they not first traversed…
The cold silence.
Have you been in this place such as this? Are you there now? I have been in that place where God is silent, and the only path forward is one I would have never chosen. It can be hard to trust, but I have learned its okay to question and to bring our confusion to the feet of Jesus. It is in the honest outpouring of our thoughts, questions, and pain that space is created in our hearts to know that we are not alone.
Unlike Mary and Martha, who had to wait for Jesus to be physically present, we have his Holy Spirit in our hearts who helps us when we need it. When we do not know how to pray, the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans, according to the will of God (Romans 8:26, 27).
During one period of cold silence in a fiery trial of my life, this poem was forged on my heart. I hope it will encourage you.
The Blacksmith reached up and took in his hand,
A glittering bottle sealed with a band.
As he broke the seal and pulled off the cap,
The fragrance of hardship filled every gap.
Wondering what was his plan and desire,
I watched as he tipped the bottle o’er the fire.
The contents spilled forth, and there I saw,
That my teardrops to the fire did fall.
To the blaze, the Blacksmith added more fuel,
Kindling the flames so that they would not cool.
To the fiery furnace, he closed the door,
And the pressure inside began to roar.
As the night melted in the dawn of day,
He opened the door and pulled the coals away.
He beckoned me close to his side that morn,
So I could see clear what the fire had born.
He opened his hand and in his palm did lay,
Not one wet teardrop or a lump of cold clay.
Instead, there were gems, radiant and bright,
Shimmering, glittering, refracting light.
“Not one tear is wasted,” I heard him say,
“But each one is kept ‘til the break of day,
When it becomes – with great heat and high pressure –
A Diamond Tear – a gem of great treasure.
“For each Diamond Tear brings a lesson of faith,
To increase your trust in what the word saith.
And when in your heart these truths take root,
Faith grows to anchor you absolute.
“So don’t fear to spill the tears of your heart,
In my hand each Diamond Tear has a part;
To remove the dross and forge a strong faith,
So you stand firm and walk with joyful faith.