Suffering part 3: Christ designs the purpose of our suffering

Jesus designs our suffering for us so that we and those around us might center our lives on the gospel, so that HE might be glorified.


In Part 1 of this series I simply laid out the categories related to suffering as I see them. My goal in this series: speak about what would really be considered suffering.

In Part 2, I started through John 11 looking at how God controls the timing of our suffering.

Can suffering be purposeful? Or is all suffering senseless? I believe the Bible portrays purposeful suffering. And as we continue to walk through John’s Gospel, especially chapter 11, I think we can see the purpose of suffering.

Understanding how the Son is glorified

Jesus himself clearly states the purpose of Lazarus’ suffering. Notice John 11:4:

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Jesus declares this suffering to be for the glory of God, specifically that the Son of God may be glorified. Martha and Mary and Lazarus will have grief and pain and it will be for the glory of the Son of God.

But what does Jesus mean by the Son of God would be glorified? Is it simply that Lazarus would be raised from the dead? I think that is part of it, but I don’t think that is the main idea.

John uses this idea of the Son of God being glorified in a few other passages in the gospel of John. Look at these verses:

John 7:39 – Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified

John 12:16 – 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

Each of these passages seems to be referencing the time after Jesus has died and resurrected. Chapter 7 is referencing the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, so Jesus would have died, risen, and ascended. Then chapter 12 seems to point to the same period, because it is when the disciples started putting Jesus’ words together to make sense of things. Finally in chapter 17, Jesus positions this glorifying of the Son in the immediate future. So with these passages in mind, we conclude that “glorifying the son” seems to involve the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

So Lazarus’s illness will NOT be to death, but it will be to the GLORY of the SON of God. That glory is his death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. It is Christ’s passion.

Understanding that Jesus knew what his disciples needed

Jesus expresses his delight and joy in the midst of suffering. Notice verse 14. The Disciples are slow to understand what Jesus is saying in verse 11, “that our friend is asleep and I go to wake him up.” Partly because the disciples are slow and partly because of fear of dying, the disciples don’t want to go back to Jerusalem. So Jesus speaks plainly to them, “Lazarus died and I am glad I was not there.”

This is a weighty statement. This surely is difficult for us to hear. Jesus was glad he was not with Lazarus while he was ill. If had been there, Lazarus would not have died. At least that is what Mary and Martha thought (verses 21 and 32). They knew he was life itself, and Jesus would have healed the one whom he loved.

But Jesus was glad he was not there. Why? Why was Jesus glad he was not there? So that his disciples might believe.

Understanding the role of Lazarus in the plan of God

Verse 45-57 relates the story of the Pharisees’ plot to kill Jesus. They are fixed and determined to see Jesus die. Do you get that? We started in verse 4 with Jesus saying that Lazarus’ sickness would not lead to death, and now we have Jesus about to die. Can you see the pattern?

  • Lazarus will be ill. Why?
  • So that he will die. Why?
  • So that Jesus can go raise him. Why?
  • So that the plot will be hatched against Jesus. Why?
  • So Jesus might die and rise and ascend. Why?
  • So Jesus might save his people.

So Jesus is right — Lazarus’ illness doesn’t eventually lead to death, it leads to life. The timing of Lazarus’ sickness leads right into the overarching plan of God, the predestined plan of Jesus’ death so that Jesus might save.

Acts 2:23 – 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Acts 4:27-28 – 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

It was appointed unto Jesus die for the sins of many. It was his mission, his life, his purpose, so that he might save us and bring us to himself. As Paul says in

Ephesians 5:25-27 – Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So how does this help us to see our suffering as having a purpose?

Jesus designs our suffering for us so that we and those around us might center our lives on the gospel, so that HE might be glorified.

No, you are not in the timeline leading up to the crucifixion, as Lazarus was.  But you can look at your suffering in a different light if you focus on how it may bring you an opportunity to point to the glory of God.  In the next post we will try to point out more specifically how this works out in our lives.

Suffering, part 1

Suffering arises from issues out of our control. It can be things that start within us or outside of us.

I have a book on suffering I have been nursing for about 8 years now, so I want to use this blog to think through, sharpen, and perhaps write this book.

First, we must clarify our terms. Here are the terms about suffering as I understand them.

  1. Suffering arises from issues out of our control. It can be things that start within us or outside of us.
  2. Discipline or punishment comes from issues in our control and roll out from something we should not have done. Here we are talking about our sin.
  3. Consequences again flow from within us, but we are not talking about sin.

If I could chart it, I think this is how I understand the matrix of issues we face.

   Outside of me Inside of me
Sin Suffering Discipline or Punishment
Foolishness Suffering Consequences
Natural World Suffering Suffering

Outside of Me

An issue starts outside of me; I can’t control it. This is suffering. The natural world can produce our suffering. Suffering can arise from someone’s foolishness; The man who loses focus while driving can foolishly bring about suffering for someone else. Someone’s sin can also cause us to suffer.

Inside of Me

The second column is different. If my “suffering” is due to my sin, then it is not suffering at all. It’s discipline or punishment.

On Discipline and Punishment

Now I use both words because I am trying to distinguish a couple of things.

  1. God will discipline his children but not punish them. (Hebrews 12)
  2. God will punish the wicked, but I don’t mean God’s wrath and hell and final destruction.

Consequences. This is not due to my sin, but it is due to some foolish thing I have done that comes back to “haunt” me.

Finally, sickness, disease, malfunctions in my body can all be called suffering as well.

It is true that many circumstances in our lives are a combination of these issues. Sometimes I am suffering and respond wrongly. Then I get a mix of suffering and consequences.

It is also true that it is often hard to talk about suffering without constantly reminding ourselves that our discipline for our sin is not suffering.

So these are the terms. What do you think? Are there other categories I should consider?