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. Here are some ways I see the Scriptures show. I’d welcome other ideas in the comments.
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.]
Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.
It seems too often this thinking become a welcome excuse by people to disengage from and minimize the suffering of those around them- especially in the church. It provides the context for the hearty “how you doings?” when they really don’t want to know, and the bracing ” Rejoice because this is better than we deserve” (something else I know you’ve written on – and much needed) that does untold damage to those in the midst of the pain. People feel isolated with the gap between them and the believer’s who’s lives are active, engaged, and full growing wider and wider. How easy it is to begin to transfer this feeling of abandonment over to God because when life already sucks and His people are not really caring beyond lip service and pats of the shoulder, one can begin to assume this is God’s heart and feelings about our stories as well. This does NOT match the heart of Jesus who wept at Lazerus’ tomb with his sisters even though he knew he was about to raise him from the dead. This does not match the heart of the Healer who stopped walking to meet with and encourage the woman who had desperately reached out to touch him garment and was instantly healed. I’m reminded of the beautiful name Hagar gave God after He met with her in the middle of her suffering and fear and she ended up calling Him ” the God who sees me”. More and more I’m realizing my faith needs to be based on trusting on His unfailing love and compassion and His seeing me and knowing me. I can longer want to get distracted by the theology and mantras that the church can so easily get hung up on. I used to be there more and ironically it was suffering that brought an end to that. It’s not that what we believe isn’t important, but I’m increasingly scared how confident I see believers are about their right theology but they demonstrate hearts and lives very far from the heart, compassion, and life of Jesus and that is a tragedy. Thank you for this article, Rebecca.
Thank you for these good words, Ann. And I believe with you that what we believe IS important (I write about theology a lot here), and what we believe about suffering is imperative for being the Christians God calls us to be.
Here is the post you mentioned, “Better than I deserve.” https://heresthejoy.com/2019/06/better-than-i-deserve/
I love this comment! Well said!!
There is a difference between suffering due to a broken and sinful humanity (illness and death, wars and famines) and suffering or affliction borne for the sake of the gospel and the Truth. The first is passive and glorifies God only through the perseverance and endurance of the sufferer in faith. The second glorifies God actively through suffering borne of a cross appointed by Christ and embraced willingly by the Christian. We must always remember that what God has done for the world becomes effective in the world through the suffering of cross-bearing Christians. As He suffered for the Father’s glory, so He calls us to suffer, but to do so actively and joyfully for the gospel.
There is a difference, yes, which I tried to distinguish in this blog post. But i believe suffering is not intrinsically glorifying to God.
Amen, Rebecca. You nailed it. Suffering is about our sanctification. It overflows onto others as they step up and walk along side us, bringing Glory to our Father. In the suffering, Christ walks along side us and strengthens us with His comfort and peace and draws us deeper into the Kingdom. It gives us the opportunity to put all our hope in heaven.
I believe there can be several purposes for suffering, as I detailed above, and I believe that sanctification comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Otherwise I do agree with what you’ve said here!
I think you took a good wide view that is necessary for such a broad and varied issue. Especially the why, why is someone suffering? and even more importantly how are we to respond to the suffering of others. As we see the country spiral into more violence and chaotic i think it is very tempting to say that others are suffering because of what they did wrong, it gives a false sense of security because then we can say we will be safe if we dont make the same mistakes they did. When we do that we dont even bother to see why a tragedy happened, just blame the victims. Then we can feel safer (which is untrue) and we dont have to offer real compassion or aid.
I also see what you are saying about people using the term in a very hurtful way that it was never intended to be used.
I also do think about the blind guy that Jesus healed and how he went through his whole life blind though no fault of his own or his parents, so that on a tuesday (or whatever day) he would be healed by Jesus for glorifying Him.
Also i think about Jesus saying right before His crucifixion and resurection “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:” John 17:1
so i think there are times that suffering is for the glory of God, but not all the time.
This quote is similar to statements i have heard before:
“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.”
Its not only wrong, its also assuming everyone that suffers is supposed to be, or that suffering is what we should all aim for, instead of seeking healing or deliverance from oppression, and it allows no compassion for the sufferer, no ‘weeping with those who weep’.
I guess that’s what i mean by wide view on a broad and varied issue.
Thank you Rebecca for your very helpful thoughts, based on God’s word.
Sandy…that is an interesting thought line. Here is something I read once on a psychology web-site that concurs…
…”So, our tendency to blame the victim is ultimately self-protective. It allows us to maintain our rosy worldview and reassure ourselves that nothing bad will happen to us. The problem is that it sacrifices another person’s well-being for our own. It overlooks the reality that perpetrators are to blame for acts of crime and violence, not victims.”
read the whole article here:
Good thought here, yes.
Yes, it’s a big topic. Just to add . . . I believe when Jesus prayed to the Father “glorify thy Son, that they Son also may glorify thee,” He wasn’t talking about the suffering per se, but was referring to the entirety of the salvation He was bringing to the earth. That involved His sacrificial death for our purification, and it also involved His resurrection and ascension in victory.
Thank you for tackling another difficult subject, Rebecca…
Perhaps this is a little off-topic, but as an abuse survivor, I struggled with this kind of teaching, as well, as many people insisted that my suffering would somehow glorify Go, based primarily on this Scripture:
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:8-11
But when it comes to suffering at the hands of others, this is what the Lord showed me. Maybe it will be helpful to someone here:
Thank you for the link, Cindy. And yes, Paul willingly and even gladly gave up everything to spread the gospel to the world. This is very different from, say, children suffering at the hands of their “Christian” parents or wives suffering at the hands of their “Christian” husbands. I’ve addressed those things elsewhere on my blog.
I want to add that i think its important that we never confuse suffering that God has sent/allowed into our lives with suffering that is not and never was His will. I dont think child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence etc are ever something God wants us to suffer or uses to correct or even punish us with. Here is an example:
And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. Jer 32:35
While He can be glorified by His healing and delivering people from those things, its not Him that caused them to happen in our lives.
Yes, good thoughts, thank you, Sandy.
Excellent post, Rebecca Davis!
I’ve been posting lately on related topics. You might enjoy this post:
Thank you so much, Joe.
I recently had an old friend, who knew me from back in the day when I was smack dab in the middle of my own walk out of hell. She was dumbfounded by the change in me, for the good, thankfully. I just smiled real big, and got to tell her that it is all Jesus and what He’s done. God did not get glory in my suffering, but for what He’s done in me, may He receive all the glory!! He is so good, and love that you said His glory is His goodness. Wonderful blog, Rebecca.
Thankful you had that opportunity, Carolyn!
Blogger and survivor of abuse Lori Anne Thompson expressed this related thought today,
“That there must be something majestic about entering into the suffering and degradation of others. Being with ameliorates some of the atrocity of abuse. It is a mercy to wait patiently while others find words for the board game of brutality. It is a gift to give others literacy to label their own losses.”
[I am not familiar with the book that she recommends in this post.]
Thank you—such important words.
Hi Rebecca… outstanding! There is a need for Christians to set the record straight about suffering. My thoughts follow:
It’s true that suffering for the right reason is laudable. It’s a sign of character to bear unavoidable hardships with dignity; and it’s courageous to willingly suffer for a greater good. But not all suffering is good, and not all adversity is unavoidable. Thanking God for what he hates (evil) is perverse (Proverbs 8:13, James 1:13)!
I am thankful that God will use my suffering for my good (Romans 8:28); but what about fruitless suffering that I could have put a stop to? If I suffer that which I could’ve done something about, then shame on me! We are not called to be gluttons for punishment. Nothing will make you crazier faster than subjecting yourself to evil that you could have halted!
This was a difficult study and one not fully understood…..when a little child is born blind and deformed, when people suffer life long pain….it is difficult to think that this brings glory to God. As a child my dad would punish us….”You are bad, so you will be punished”….was the accepted mindset for breaking the rules. This suggests that because humanity is sinful…we will suffer. This is a difficult concept of a Loving God of mercy. You’ve inherited the sin nature…not by choice, but by instance and sin of Adam…and thus are destined to sin, because you are bad, you will suffer and hopefully find a way to glorify God.
I agree, as I wrote in this article, that suffering is not intrinsically glorifying to God. I distinguished a few ways that I believe suffering can bring glory to God, but when suffering is inflicted by wicked people, then what they are doing is not glorifying to God at all.
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