“God exists to make me happy and solve my problems.” Though not usually stated this directly, this has become the mindset for many who profess to believe in God today – a god who exists to make them happy in the way they want it. Additionally, if you listen to modern Christian radio for long enough, you might walk away with a similar idea after a while. While there are many great Christian songs out there, some leave this weird taste in your mouth, like God’s primary role is to dote over us and help us make it through life as painlessly as possible. Consequently, Christian and non-Christian theists alike tend to end up with a weak understanding of God and a poor theology of suffering. It’s easy to believe in God when he’s doing what he’s supposed to do- meeting my needs and making me happy; but as soon as reality kicks in and bad times hit, this god doesn’t seem to make sense anymore.
As strange as it may sound, the good news for our culture is this: “It’s not about you…” In fact, it’s even better than that! The reality is, it’s all about God and all about his glory. The universe revolves around him, not you, and thank God it is this way! Now, you may be asking, “how is this good news?” The short answer is that your deepest happiness and God’s pursuit of his glory are not at odds with each other, but are actually one in the same end. If God designed us, he knows what can bring us lasting joy, and if he truly loves us, he will do whatever it takes to preserve and uphold that one thing that truly satisfies our souls, namely his glory. Think about it for a moment. If God existed merely to dote over us and our whims he would be petty, weak and boring. He would be no more satisfying than the foolish whims we chase after, no wiser than the limited wisdom we possess and no greater than we ourselves are. With all the more spectacular things in the universe that surrounds us, God would actually be unloving if he elevated something frail and minuscule, like ourselves, above what is ultimately glorious and satisfying, namely himself. If you think about some of the most amazing moments in life, are they not when you forget about yourself for a moment and get lost in the beauty of something bigger than you? Like standing before the ocean, gazing at the stars, or standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon…These things are but faint echoes of the greater majesty of God, pointing you to the weightier glory you were made for. We were not made for mirrors, gazing upon ourselves and looking out for number one. We were made for God, to stand in his presence and to gaze upon his glory…
The problem is that we seek happiness on our own terms apart from God, and so we get upset when He interferes with our plans. But the more we look away from ourselves and discover the superior delight in God’s glory, the more we will begin to unpack the riches of this deeper joy- even joy in the midst of pain…In the story of Lazarus in John 11, some people send word to Jesus that Lazarus is sick. What happens next, however, is really confusing. John writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” (John 11:5-6) But wait a second here…shouldn’t it have said, “Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, so when he heard Lazarus was sick, he went immediately to his house and healed him?” After all, wouldn’t the most loving thing for Jesus to do in this moment is keep on doing what he’s been doing – that is, be the Superman and rush in and save Lazarus before he dies. Maximize pleasure, minimize pain right? After all, if Jesus is all powerful and all good to prevent this suffering why in the world doesn’t he do something? You might imagine Lazarus or his sisters crying out, “Jesus if you really loved me, you’d come and heal me now!”…But Jesus doesn’t do this. The craziest thing in this passage is that it says, “because” Jesus loved them, he stayed where he was two more days and did nothing to stop the pain. Jesus counted it more loving for Mary, Martha and Lazarus to experience the agony of death and yet come to know him in a deeper way as the author of life than to avoid pain and suffering altogether (v. 15). Though Jesus doesn’t stop Lazarus’s death, he does something even better. He defeats it. He conquers our greatest enemy, Death, by raising Lazarus back to life, reversing the curse. This story is a small parable of God’s greater story in this world. While Jesus doesn’t always stop the pain, he promises something better – a final victory over sin, death, and pain, and a deeper taste of His glory in eternity with Him forever.
Often times God uses suffering to bring us what we really need, to help us see his glory more clearly and to savor it more fully. Jesus allows Lazarus to taste death so that he and his sisters might know him as the resurrection and the life. Jesus allows us to thirst so that we might know him as the living water. He allows us to hunger so we might know him as the bread of life. He allows us to go needy so that we might know him as the Great Provider. While we seek happiness on our own terms, Jesus knows that real life cannot be found apart from him. And he will do whatever it takes, even if it’s painful for us, to help us learn that man does not live on bread alone.
Contrary to popular belief, pain is not the worst thing that can happen to us. Rather, a life separated from the glorious God of the universe – this is the worst thing that could happen to anyone. Consequently, Jesus, himself, took on one of the most excruciating forms of human suffering when he died on the cross. And he did this so that the worst thing in the world – eternal separation from God, might not happen to us. Rather than remaining aloof to us, he entered into our pain and tasted death and separation from God for us, so that we might share in his glorious resurrected life.
To stand in awe of God and his glory is what we were made for. This exhilarating feeling that never ends, this excitement that never gets old, this worship that never ends – this is what it’s about. Though the ocean is amazing, you get used to it after a while and want to move on to something else. Things get boring. But God is infinitely glorious and never gets boring. This is why the Psalmist says, “one thing I ask of the Lord, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon his beauty and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4) This is why the cherubim and seraphim never stop crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is filled with His glory.” (Rev. 4:8) The cherubim’s job to never stop worshipping God day and night may sound boring to an outsider looking in, just as the Grand Canyon may sound boring to someone who’s only heard of it by word of mouth but never actually seen it for themselves. But once you’ve tasted and seen the glory of God for yourself, you know that standing in the presence of God and worshipping him in his temple is a never-ending thrill of emotions, with wave upon wave of love, joy, peace, awe-struck fear, excitement, and splendor.
What is more, unlike the mountains and oceans, which possess an impersonal glory, the glory of God is a personal one. Mountains are majestic, but they can’t speak to you, can’t shed a tear, can’t get angry, cannot love, cannot be your friend. They’re indifferent to you. But the One who made all these things, which is but a tiny flicker of God’s glory, He is the one who cares about you the most. Even though we are small and minuscule in relation to the universe and to God, the crazy thing is that God actually delights in us, sings over us and is pleased to demonstrate his great love for us in Christ. He is a God who comes down to our level, who speaks to us in space/time history, who lives among us, and suffers and dies in our place so that we might know more of his glory and enter into his love. Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world…I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:24,26) This is what we’re made for, to worship God, to know him and to enjoy him forever and ever.