Today I will be conducting a wedding. It’s a joy-filled time in a pastor’s life — standing before two people as they become, in the words of Holy Scripture, “one flesh”. It will be a time of great celebration because according to God’s purpose, two people, two lives and two stories will now become one!
But I know this couple well and I know their individual journeys which have led them to this day of celebration. They have allowed me over the months of pre-marital counseling to read the pages of their life stories. Today as I look into their faces, I will see not only the joy and celebration of this great moment, but I will also remember the pain of their past. They have both lived long enough to encounter suffering and along with their love for one another and for the Lord, they will bring their pain also. Their pain is part of their individual stories and as they become one and their stories merge with one another, the pain will be lessened … but it will still be with them.
Our suffering never really leaves us. It is part of our story.
Oh, I know that some people try very hard to deny this reality. In North America, we are a culture which just wants to get through the tough times. We view suffering as a tragic but temporary state which IF it afflicts us, will soon be over and forgotten as we move past it, getting on with “real life”.
But God’s Word doesn’t view suffering the way our culture does. Jesus spoke often about the reality and indeed, the value of suffering. Paul wrote about suffering going so far as to say that he “rejoiced” in his suffering. James, the brother of Jesus, spoke of suffering in a similar way when he taught Christ-followers to “count it all joy” when they suffered. Suffering was an integral and valuable part of their story.
And it was Peter, the disciple and apostle who died by being crucified upside down, who taught us a most valuable lesson as he wrote to Christians for whom suffering was a harsh and ongoing reality of life. As he spoke about suffering, he spoke equally about glory. 1 Peter is where we see most clearly the marriage between suffering and glory. “Glory” has been defined as a “public display of God’s infinite worth and value”. In his writings, Peter elevates suffering to a high and noble state where it becomes a platform for the display of God’s infinite worth and value. (See 1 Peter 1:11, 2:19-20, 3:14, 4:19)
For Peter, suffering marries glory.
Yes, Peter’s writings were specifically addressing the kind of suffering that comes to believers because of their faith in Jesus Christ. But let us not forget that Christ’s sufferings were endured in the fullness of His humanity — He suffered in His body and in His emotions. For those who suffer with cancer or heart disease, or because of broken emotions or broken minds or broken relationships, we can see the opportunity for the same marriage between our suffering and God’s glory to be revealed in our suffering. When we meet the Savior in our suffering, His glory can be displayed in and through us and by how we endure the suffering we encounter.
Like the couple who today will become husband and wife when the pain of their past marries the joy before them — our suffering can marry the glory of God offered to us. This then becomes our story.
Are you suffering today? If so, I pray that Jesus will meet you in a special way and that He will strengthen and encourage you with the knowledge that He will be your constant companion in your suffering. I pray that you will know that you are postured by God to have your suffering become a place for a “public display of God’s infinite worth and value”. There is no shame in suffering. It is a reality of life this side of heaven. It is meant not just to be endured and then dismissed, but to be experienced in the calm assurance that God is doing something good and noble in our lives. Be encouraged today.
How can we do this? How can we participate in the marriage between suffering and glory? The writer of Hebrews tell us how:
“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
Because of the joy awaiting him, he suffered the cross, disregarding its shame.
Now he is seated in the place of glory and honor beside God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:2
Suffering marries glory. Amen. Let it be!