God causes suffering in order to bring Himself glory
Ultimately, God’s primary motivation for everything He does — including His work in my life and yours — is to bring Himself glory. With all His divine sovereignty and power, God sets out to ensure that His fame fills the universe and that His greatness is demonstrated in and seen by everything He has made. Sometimes, God’s glory is advanced by giving gifts to His children that cause them to run around squealing with delight. Sometimes, God’s glory is advanced by withholding gifts, enforcing discipline, or otherwise bringing about what we would call “suffering.” God is even glorified by granting us free-will, which opens up the possibility for our outright rebellion, or by severely punishing His enemies, or even by allowing Satan temporary dominion over the earth.
It’s not as if God is somehow directly glorified in our pain. But God is most certainly glorified in our redemption, which requires great sacrifice and pain. If the stone could feel, it would experience great pain in its being chiseled into a masterpiece for the artist’s benefit, but it would no less be the artist’s right to chisel it.
I’ve met many people who experience a fairly extreme allergic reaction to statements like these. Perhaps you do too. They interpret all this with no small measure of cynicism and incredulity… “So God is willing to sacrifice my happiness or cause me pain just so He can somehow make Himself look good!? And what kind of ‘good’ God looks good because I suffer?!”
Well, in a word, yes, God is willing to sacrifice your happiness for His glory, but I wouldn’t put it exactly in those terms. And I would certainly spend some time unpacking the implications of such a statement to make sure we’re starting with valid assumptions. So, let’s do that…
First, God created the universe, including us. His role as Creator inherently gives Him the right to leverage His creation for His own purposes, which (let’s face it) we don’t truly understand.
Second, why should the world revolve around our happiness? How does that work? If you have kids, do you gauge the value of your parenting by how happy your kids are all the time? We’ve already talked about this at some detail, so we know that the only way to have a remotely healthy view of life is to get yourself out of the center of it.
Third, God is everlasting, all-powerful, infinitely-amazing, utterly-perfect majesty. If anything or anyone was going to be famous, wouldn’t it obviously be Him? In fact, for praise or glory or fame to flow to anyone or anything other than God would constitute a phenomenal injustice. It’s the very definition of idolatry. Such misdirected glory is at the core of every wrong and broken thing in this universe. Far from being some kind of injustice, the only way (by any meter stick) in which things can be right with the world is when, at all costs, God is glorified.
Except by the meter stick that says that *I* should be the one glorified instead of God.
In part, I think one reason we bristle against such comprehensive statements about God’s right to make us implements of His glory because we fear pain. Some of us also reject this thinking because we want the glory for ourselves (the aforementioned faulty meter stick). But I suspect the most common reason is that we dramatically underestimate and undervalue God. We don’t see Him as worthy of relentless glory. In the final analysis, we’re not actually all that concerned with Him. We wrongly consider other things (for example, our personal happiness) to be approximately as valuable as He is.
All of which is because we’ve never really seen God.
But check out the prophet Isaiah’s account of what happened when he came face-to-face with God…
I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices, the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:1-7)
Isaiah really saw God. And as a result, he didn’t protest that somehow God has no right to be glorified at his expense (or do whatever else He wants). Instead, he fell on his face before God and volunteered for whatever mission God wanted to send him on. And in so doing, he set an example for us on many fronts. Ultimately God sent Isaiah to Israel as a prophet who would spend the rest of his life pounding his head against a brick wall … proclaiming God’s word to a people who kept on hearing, but not understanding, who kept on seeing but not perceiving, who had dull hearts and heavy ears and blind eyes. But I guarantee that Isaiah didn’t feel like God had treated him unjustly … especially when He got to heaven and realized that it was all worth it in order to know and love God the way He did (see Isaiah 6:9-10).
Many years later, Isaiah clearly still believed what we too must fully internalize…
Woe to him who strives with Him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to Him who forms it, “What are you making?” or “Your work has no handles!”? Woe to him who says to a father, “What are you begetting?” or to a woman, “With what are you in labor?”
Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and the One who formed him, “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands? I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city [do my work] and set my exiles free [be instruments of justice in my hands], not for price or reward [but because I am his God and he is my son],” says the Lord of Hosts. (Isaiah 45:9-13)
So it is clearly God’s right to form whatever pot He chooses from the clay, or sculpt whatever statue He chooses from the stone. And though the clay and the stone will almost certainly feel discomfort and uncertainty, pain and hardship in the sculpting, they will also feel great wonder and awe as they share in the glory of the One who molds them … because their glory is in their becoming works of art, not in remaining raw materials. Our problem is that we are too enamored with ourselves as raw materials, and not enamored enough with the Artist and the astounding beauty of what the Artist makes.
Will we not look back and consider the pain we experienced in the molding to be well worth it when we are works of art instead of lumps of rock?
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
That the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
Read more about the goodness of God, and how and why God introduces suffering into our lives.