In this journey to biblically find sufficient answers to why God allows and even ordains suffering in the life of the Christian, we must make our way to and stay in the Word of God. As previously stated in the introduction, we must not rely on the thoughts and ideas of men but rather on the truth of God in His Word. This first point of three that I will briefly dive into is going to examine how God permits suffering for His glory (keep in mind that I realize there are multiple reasons and purposes for suffering that I could examine). Some have stated that this seems selfish and God is not selfish. I agree that God is not selfish, but I think we need to take a closer look at the word “selfish” before we say that God desiring glory for Himself is selfish. Now, if God desired glory for Himself at the expense of others or completely without regard to others, then I would concur that God is selfish. However, that is not the case at all. In God’s desire for His own glory and His desire for praise and worship, it is not at our expense but for our joy. As we worship, we are filled with joy. The reward for exalting God and treasuring Him above all else is eternal joy in His presence. God’s desire for His own glory is far from selfish. Also, we must understand that God is the only One who deserves praise and honor and glory. While He does not use suffering as a form of forceful worship, He does ordain suffering to turn our eyes and hearts back to Him. I will examine a few passages that support this as well as taking a look at the greatest and most undeserved suffering in world history; the crucifixion of Christ. I pray that His gospel is at the center of this examination.
Firstly, before any claims can be made as to the reason for suffering, there must be an establishment of how suffering comes about or who or what causes suffering. It is clear from Scripture that God does in fact cause suffering to come about through evil acts and even sin. It is often said that Satan causes evil and is in control of it and God merely allows it to happen. This declares God to be subordinate to Satan in this respect. But the reality is that God is sovereign and Satan is in fact subordinate to God in all facets of life. God, after His perfect and good creation, permitted sin to enter the world (Genesis 3:6-7). In the same regard, God ordained suffering to enter the world (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 8:20-23). While man is ultimately responsible for his sin and has free-will, the will of God cannot be thwarted. Even in the case of Joseph, while his brothers sinned by selling him into slavery, God was behind the scenes orchestrating the very means by which these brothers would be saved from famine through Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 37:25-28; Psalm 105:16-17). It is God, through His knowledge, power, and goodness, who hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to display His glory through His wondrous works (Exodus 3:19-20; 4:21; Romans 9:17). Throughout Scripture, there are similar instances in which God causes suffering (i.e. the thorn in Paul’s side. 2 Corinthians 12:6-9).
With this truth established we can move on to state that God intends suffering out of His desire for the exaltation of the glory of His grace expressed specifically through the suffering of His Son. No greater passage than Isaiah 48:10-11 declares God’s desire for His own glory in suffering: “I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own name sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” We have been created for the glory of God (Isaiah 43:7; 1 Corinthians 10:31). We are also saved by His grace in the suffering of Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14). He endured the greatest suffering of any human to ever live. He did so undeservedly for those who did deserve it. God ordained Christ, who was righteous, to take on sin so that He might impute His righteousness to all who believe in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Suffering was fully experienced by Jesus Christ. The purpose of His death was to exalt the glory of God. It is common to say that Jesus had us on His mind as He went to the cross. However, it is correct to say that He had the Father on His mind as He went to the cross (John 12:27-28; 17:1). Jesus suffered for the glory of God. It can therefore be said that God, who planned the death of Jesus before the foundation of the earth, intended the suffering of Christ to ultimately glorify Him (Acts 2:23).
God ordains suffering in our lives, therefore, to reveal His glory both to us and to others. When we suffer, we “bear on [our bodies] the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). God reveals His glory to us through suffering as we suffer for His sake and count all loss as rubbish in order to gain Christ because knowing Him, even in suffering, is well worth it (Philippians 3:7-10). We also share with Christ in His suffering so as to be a display of His ultimate suffering to others (2 Corinthians 1:5-6; Colossians 1:24). As the glory of God is revealed in and through our sufferings, God is glorified by the praise of those who respond in faith. Of course, not all will respond this way and therefore dishonor His name by robbing God of glory. This does not however make this point any less relevant in the same way that the lack of response in faith of some to the gospel of Christ makes its truth no less relevant. Therefore, God intends suffering for the increase of His glory among all peoples of all nations particularly through our Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ.
By His Grace — For His Glory — For Our Joy