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If People Go to Heaven Immediately After Death, Was it Cruel to Bring Lazarus Back to Life?

If you believe that people go immediately to heaven when they die, do you think it might have been a bit cruel to Lazarus for Jesus to bring him back to life?

Think of what Paul writes in Romans: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom. 14:8). For Lazarus’ case, we might add: “If we are asked to ‘come back’ for the sake of some work the Lord has for us to do, we are the Lord’s—in life, death, and resurrection.” Although it may be “better by far” to be in the presence of the Lord, it may be “more necessary” for others that we remain (Phil. 1:22-24).

In any case, I appreciate the way that Dorothy Sayers rendered the scene in her series of radio dramas, The Man Born to Be King (broadcast in 1941-1942). Here’s the dialogue after Lazarus is raised from the dead:

Mary [to Lazarus]: You are smiling—you are laughing—you are alive!

Lazarus (joyfully): Yes, I am alive!

Martha: Where have you been?

Lazarus: With life.

Mary: Do you know who called you back?

Lazarus: Life. He is here and he has never left me.

(The Man Born to Be King: Wade Annotated Edition. p. 264)

Lazarus would have to die again. His loved ones would have to grieve again. But they would grieve with hope because in the raising of Lazarus they saw a preview of things to come. More importantly, they were able to place their firm hope in the Lord, who waits (John 11:6) and weeps (11:35) but ultimately says “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25) and raises the dead. This is our great hope—and the hope of all creation.

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