Suffering, Love and Glory

Many have experienced the kind of hard providences that have brought them near to the end of their faith. Seemingly Earth-shattering events are common to all men, and are heightened in the life of the believer by the trials that we uniquely face (e.g. persecution for the sake of the Gospel). The default reaction of believers (as well as for many unbelievers) is immediate prayer for an end to the trial. Yet what happens when our suffering continues and when God delays an answer? What are we to make of hardships which make God’s providence and God’s promise appear to collide? How will our faith survive in such times? There are precious lessons to be learned regarding this important issue from John’s account of the raising of Lazarus (Jn. 11).

  • You cannot have your “best life now”. That is to say, if we are united to our Saviour by faith, we must tread the path he trod while on this earth. Not only are we united to his blessings, but also the trials he faced. “A servant is not greater than his master” (Jn. 15:20) applies both to persecution for the faith, and the general struggles of this life. If Jesus wept and sorrowed over Lazarus’ death, ought we to think we will be exempt from such troubles in this life?
  • God’s greatest priority is not to remove hardship from your life. Notice how, in John 11, our Lord receives the news of Lazarus’ serious sickness and delays attending to him. In that time of delay, Lazarus dies. Jesus, indirectly, is the cause of Lazarus death – he could have stopped it, but he chose not to. In other words, God’s greatest priority for your life, may well not be the very thing you are praying for. Learn this lesson, that because “God’s ways are not our ways”, we might need to realign what we think is important in life, to that which God reveals is needful and necessary for us.
  • Your desires are not necessarily your needs. Both Martha and Mary send word to Christ hoping for healing. They both approach him, heart-broken, saying “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died” (Jn: 11:21, 32). Indeed, that is the case. But Jesus chose not to come to them, because his goal was bigger than a simple healing. What we want is frequently not what we need from a wise and loving divine hand. But why would God leave us in our suffering?
  • God loves us enough to lead us through and leave us in suffering. We might think that if God loved us, he would answer our prayers and remove the trouble we face. But Jesus’ actions to Mary and Martha reveal the contrary. Jn 11:5 “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” Notice the cause of Christ’s delay: his love. His love for his dear friend Lazarus and his sisters, played a pivotal role in the crisis his friends faced. To put it another way, God loves us enough to let our loved ones die. Yes! You read that correctly. But why would he do that?
  • God has a design in suffering (which is not always an immediate removal of suffering). That is to say, God wants to reveal, teach or instruct us in some way. To be precise, with Martha and Mary, Jesus’ design was “[the sickness] is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Could it be our greatest need in times of trial is not the removal of the trial, but rather to see more of the glory, grace, power, love, compassion, sympathy and kindness of our Father in heaven and our Saviour?
  • The removal of a trial may be an insufficient act. Have you ever wondered why Jesus did not heal Lazarus? Probably because he had done many healings before, and at this stage in his ministry (not long before his death) he wanted to reveal more of his power than simply a healing. He was, as it were, holding out for the great sign of John’s gospel – a resurrection. Lazarus’ own death and resurrection prefigured his own death and resurrection. Could it be that in your suffering, God is not only teaching us to look at him, but is going to reveal more grace and glory than we could ever imagine, or see in times of plenty? As the Scottish divine, Samuel Rutherford stated “when I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest wines”. Or, as Spurgeon said “but if I am made to go down to the deep well of affliction, I look up and see the stars visible above my head. I see what others cannot see”.
  • Your sufferings will cease one day. All of our enemies will certainly be vanquished by the Lord Jesus. This includes sickness and death. The Lazarus narrative is so encouraging: it provides a picture of the Warrior-King Jesus, filled with rage at sin, death and the devil. He is described as “deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled” (Jn 11:33). An examination of the Greek will show these emotions are more to do with anger, than sorrow. (Indeed, the sorrow of Christ “Jesus wept” (v 35) is a reflection of a self-controlled anger.) Anger at Satan, anger at sin and its terrible effects – death. All of which would be manifested in Christ’s own experience shortly.

"Jesus," wrote BB Warfield in The Emotional Life of Our Lord, “approached the grave of Lazarus, not in a state of uncontrollable grief, but of irrepressible anger.” He continues, “His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words, “as a champion who prepares for conflict”. The raising of Lazarus thus becomes not an isolated marvel, but – as indeed it is present through the whole narrative – a decisive instance and open symbol of Jesus’ conquest over death and hell. What John does for us in this particular statement is to uncover to us the heart of Jesus, as he wins salvation for us. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against our foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression and under the impulse of these feelings, has wrought out our redemption”.

Are you beginning to see this biblical perspective on suffering? The suffering that we endure in this life is not in spite of God's love, but because of it. It is not out of God’s control, but firmly part of His plan. He is giving us all that we need, rather than giving us what we desire in order that we might see our Savior in all His glorious rage, vanquishing our enemies one by one, even death itself. May God grant us grace to see the “the Glory of God,"  in order that "the Son of God may be glorified” in and through our sufferings.

 

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