Suffering for Glory: Why is Often the Hardest Question

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV

Why do we suffer? To what end can we contribute the suffering of this world to the glory of the next? Why has God allowed the pain of this world in light of the completion of the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross of Calvary? Will this agony have an end? These are questions which we wrestle with constantly. For some, this is a daily struggle to find meaning in the seemingly meaningless. For others, it is the challenge of knowing how to comfort those experiencing pains which we cannot understand beyond the elementary level of sympathetic compassion. For more still, it is the deep longing to explain the inexplicable.

God in His infinite wisdom has ordained and orchestrated suffering for our good and for His glory. This can seem like a trite and pathetic excuse of a response to someone experiencing significant suffering through death, disease, divorce, or a host of other calamities. The painful reality that God is allowing, or worse yet orchestrating, our suffering can often times be unbearable. That an all-powerful and all-loving God would bring about such emotionally wrenching scenarios in the lives of those whom He loves is beyond the comprehension of the human mind.

A careful reading of the book of Habakkuk will bring forth the truth that God is using His sovereignty and His perfect knowledge to draw His people unto Himself. Is suffering really the only way to do this? Absolutely not! However, it is a means to an end. God uses His creation, His children, and even Himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit, to draw us unto Him. Yet often we do not respond. This is certainly not the only time when suffering occurs. Perhaps it has occurred as a retribution for sin. Didn’t Christ cover the sins of humanity at the cross? Yes! However, to accept that forgiveness is a choice made by everyone, every moment of everyday. This does not mean that salvation is only momentary or that it can somehow be lost but that we must be refined more into the image of Christ daily. This is the process of sanctification.

The reasons for suffering may well be many and varied but their ultimate goal is unified; the glory of God. How does God receive glory through my suffering? By my response to His calling. Suffering, at its most basic level, will lead to only one of two responses. We will either lean deeply into the arms of Christ or we will spit on the cross and call it a curse. That may seem like a very stark contrast but its reality remains the same. We will either choose Christ or choose ourselves. The question then becomes: on whom will you rely? If your choice is to rejoice in the glory of God and accept the grace of being refined to be more like Him, then you will find the “peace which passes all understanding.” However, if your choice is to rely on self and curse God for His “unjust” treatment of you, then you have decidedly acknowledged a lack of desire for all that God has planned for you and have likely forgotten your rightful place in the depths of Sheol.

This may all sound too grim to accept but the reality is that the suffering of this world is not worthy of being compared to the glory of the next which is in Christ Jesus. I have known suffering and I am sure that I will know it again. I have responded well to it and I have responded poorly to it. In all honesty, all to often I have not responded to it at all. Instead, I have reacted to it. Reactions require no thought and carrying major, often unintended, consequences. Responses require thought, a healthy dose of patience, and even greater dose of God. Reactions are almost never set on the same course as a response is or should be.

It is important to remember that in the midst of the darkest moment of history Christ had to make a choice to respond and not react, to accept suffering as part of the broader plan of God even when He most certainly did not deserve it. Jesus prayed in the garden for His impending death to not occur but ultimately He said to the Father “not my will, but Yours be done.”  In the face of what would be the greatest suffering ever to befall one man in all of history Christ chose to die to himself so that we may live for the glory of God forever! So remember that no matter what the suffering may entail, its purpose is ultimately to bring glory to God!
In Christ,
Pastor Joe