Recently I received a question from my friend Ana Harris. She said,
When people’s prayers for God to be glorified in my suffering are disconnected from his goodness and love, they start to sound rather cruel, almost like God is using me and taking pleasure in my pain. Does God cause my pain and suffering for his own glory? Why would he need our suffering to get glory for himself? Doesn’t he already possess glory because of who he is?
What is your answer to this? How do we truly glorify God? What is glory anyway?
In the context of her question, Ana told me that in reading the Scriptures she had observed this passage, 2 Chronicles 7:1-3.
“Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the house. The priests could not enter into the house of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’S house. All the sons of Israel, seeing the fire come down and the glory of the LORD upon the house, bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave praise to the LORD, saying, “Truly He is good, truly His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
So this seems to indicate that His glory is connected with His goodness.
Why do we need to glorify God? Doesn’t He have glory already? What is glory anyway?
“Glory” is about splendor, greatness, and goodness
So much of the Old Covenant used physical things to represent spiritual truths. In the Old Testament especially, the glory of the Lord was often represented by bright light, such as the passage Ana cited from 2 Chronicles. “The glory of the Lord appeared” is used over and over.
This “light-glory” serves as a spotlight to draw the attention of everyone around to the one being spotlighted.
One of the key passages about glory in the Old Covenant is Exodus 33:18-23 when, on Mt. Sinai, Moses asked to see God’s glory. There we see the connection and between glory and goodness because at that time, God showed Moses His glorious goodness. As a result, Moses’ face shown so brightly that he had to wear a veil.
That’s important to our understanding of glory in the New Covenant (which I’ll talk about more in my next post).
God is already as glorious as He’ll ever be
He already is surrounded in light. He already has accomplished great and glorious works, both in creation and in miracles and especially in the Resurrection. There is nothing we need to do, or can do, to make Him more intrinsically glorious.
“Glorifying God” is about drawing the attention of others to His greatness and goodness
Many Scriptures reference this, and much has been written about it. Through our words that express the desires of our hearts, we can “focus the spotlight” on our good and glorious God.
Does God cause my pain and suffering for his own glory?
Here is the crux of the initial question.
Suffering is not intrinsically glorifying to God
I found a good bit of evidence to indicate that some bloggers and other writers and speakers would apparently disagree with me on this point.
But if it were, then a conversation like this would make sense:
“Alicia is suffering, isn’t that great?”
“Glory to God! Tell me all about her sufferings so I can praise God with you! In fact, I need to figure out ways to suffer so I can glorify God too.”
“Well, Alicia left the faith because of her suffering and the callous response of Christians, but at least she’s getting to suffer. Glory to God!”
There is nothing about suffering that is intrinsically glorifying to God. In fact, that is a perverse thought that can be used of the devil in an evil work. I have seen it.
When people pray for and speak of God being glorified through the sufferings of others, but that glory is devoid of any talk of his goodness and lovingkindness—and I would go further to say, when it is devoid of any evidence of goodness and kindness from the people of God—then their prayers and words become a travesty.
How suffering can be related to God being glorified
And yet, both the Scriptures and life circumstances show us that suffering is sometimes related to God being glorified.
Through healing or deliverance
A story of healing or deliverance necessitates that previous to the healing or deliverance, a person was either sick or bound. This is what all of Jesus’ healing miracles were about. The blind man Jesus healed in John 9—for the rest of his life, everywhere he went he displayed the glory of God simply by looking at people. The same for Lazarus, after Jesus raised him from the dead.
“When I had that accident and was lying in that hospital bed, I had time to rethink my life and knew I needed to turn away from the road I was on and turn to Jesus.” We’ve heard stories similar to this one. 2 Chronicles 33 tells a similar story of King Manasseh, who repented in prison. The one who does the repenting can give thanks to God for turning his heart to Himself, even through a hardship.
The majority of my friends have gone through very great suffering, sometimes because of the fallenness of a sin-cursed world, sometimes because of active evil perpetrated on them or those they love. The God-directed faith that I see in many of them as they deal with the fallout of their life circumstances or the evil of others, the strength and wisdom I see in them as they continue to trust Jesus Christ, serve as inspirations to me as I sometimes have the privilege to walk with them, to one degree or another, on their difficult journey.
This does not mean that if an opportunity presents itself to get out of the suffering, that they should reject it and stay in the suffering, as some have suggested, in a twisted and futile desire to increase in holiness (which comes only by faith). In fact, the Bible indicates we should get out of suffering if we can. I’ve written about these things more several places, such as here and here and here.
Through the Holy Spirit power to stand strong in the Lord in the face of persecution
Though this one is similar to the previous one, I gave it its own section because there’s something distinctive about suffering directly for the Lord, for faith in Him (rather than because of sin or the fallenness of the world or evil people who simply want to harm others).
We can see this kind of suffering clearly in the lives of the martyrs of first century Rome, who were willing to suffer and die in the coliseum rather than renounce their faith. Many of the onlookers came to a personal saving faith in Jesus Christ because of their example. In fact, that was such a common occurrence that it gave birth to the saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
This is the situation that perhaps most or all of the so-called “suffering for God’s glory” Scriptures in the New Testament are addressing. This is because the Jews had the prosperity mindset common among many conservative Christians today, in that if everything was going well, they assumed that they were right with God. When things didn’t go well, they figured they must not be right with God.
But Jesus and the apostles gave a different viewpoint: Experiencing persecution for the Name of Jesus Christ from those who hate Him was not to be a surprise or even a discouragement, but was to be expected and to be considered a “light affliction.”
Does this absolve Christians of responsibility in the lives of those who are suffering?
It seems like a nonsensical question.
But tragically I’ve seen this kind of callousness over and over from those who have claimed to be representatives of Jesus Christ. Something along the lines of, “Give thanks that you get to suffer for His glory,” with a casual dismissal.
I think in part the problem here is that our view of God is too small, too Western, and too influenced by the prosperity gospel. Yes, even us conservative Christians. The horror stories of the suffering of others make us “uncomfortable,” so we back away and come up with excuses.
And something in us wants to think that if you’re suffering, you must have done something to deserve it.
But this is not the way suffering strikes. And we Christians, of all people, should understand that.
We should not back away. We should come close, listen, and care in the Name of Jesus Christ, seek His face to know Him better, and offer love to those around us in practical ways, even as we continue to hope in Him in the midst of a suffering world.
And this will one beautiful way to bring glory to His Name.
This post referenced several other posts I’ve written about suffering. Here they are:
If you’ve studied the Scriptures about God’s glory and have some observations to add, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. I’ll be talking more about glory in my next post as well, specifically its practical applications in our lives. [Update: The next post is now published, and can be found here.]