Summary: God love his people through sorrow and death to eternal pleasure and everlasting joy.
John 11 contains the well-known story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and (for trivia fans) the shortest verse in the Bible is in this chapter. We also find here the last of the seven miracles (or “signs” as John calls them) which structure this book. Miracles (of course) are exciting, but Jesus is no mere magician. God has come to die for the sins of his people and to rise for our justification. This culminating sign is a parable revealing deep truth about God’s love and work in our lives. Please give your attention to the reading of God’s Word in John 11. [Read John 11.1-44. Pray.]
One ill effect of an evil heart is that I naturally assume that my will should be the axis around which the universe turns. This perspective often reveals itself by how much the affairs of life control my feelings. When events please me, I believe God is good and his love safe and solid. When circumstances go awry, I wonder that God’s love is so fickle and frail. Such attitudes betray a most basic form of idolatry. I look at life’s problems and assume they reveal the nature and character of God. The Bible condemns that approach.
The book of Romans does say that creation reveals God exists and deserves worship. The Apostle Paul learned this from Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” But Paul adds that sin both bends creation’s story to hide the truth, and corrupts our ability to interpret “general revelation” properly. As a result, circumstances actually deflect us from the true nature of God. We must have the Word (both in flesh and in Scripture) reveal God to us.
William Cowper struggled with depression much of his life. This led him to meditate frequently on God’s love and goodness in the midst of pain and suffering (what he called God’s frowning providence). One fruit of his anguish was the hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Listen to these words: “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace, behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding ev’ry hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flow’r.”
Today, a frowning providence; tomorrow a smiling face. ESV Psalm 30.5b: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” God’s unfolding flower of providence will one day reveal blessings unimaginably sweet for his people.
Our family found a corollary example of this when we left off sweets for lent — pleasure can increase when we do without for a season. What that experience taught in a small and simplistic way is also true in substantial and significant events: hard circumstances and difficult trials can bring “joy inexpressible and filled with glory” (1Peter 1.8).
As I grow older I am more and more convinced that our attitude towards our troubles drastically affects the outcome. We find it easy to nurse poor attitudes until they infiltrate every pore of our lives. Rather than trust God and count trials as opportunities to grow in grace and faith, our attitudes drive us to self-pity, self-absorption, self-trust, fear, defensiveness.
These attitudes seem to lead to one of two errors. The first subordinates thoughts of God’s glory to desire for personal happiness. Then, when bad things happen, when we are displeased with God’s providence, we either reject God completely or dissolve into a morass of destructive emotions. We may say, “I’m not interested in a God who let’s my friends die (or suffer).” Or we may simply feel sorry for ourselves and take out our pain on whoever happens to be near.
The other error imagines that God’s concern for his own glory makes him unfeeling and indifferent to our suffering. Religion, then, helps me grit my teeth and endure. But this is the false faith of stoicism. You know people whose faith is joyless, and not content with their own bad attitudes, they steal joy from others.
The Biblical balance is ESV James 1.2-4: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The Bible clearly teaches that God delights to glorify himself. That truth is the only rock that holds firm when storms of suffering slam against us. But (and do not miss the other half) God’s glory is the only thing which will make me infinitely and eternally happy.