Glory Despite Pain
By Anthony Casperson
I talk a lot about trying to find the work of God in our lives, despite our circumstances. But honestly, that’s easier said than done.
When stress explodes around us. And everything we try fails. Or we feel like we’re just flailing in the dark, longing for some hint of God’s presence in our lives. It can be difficult to believe that God’s glory and our growth in him could ever be a part of this path in the valley of death-like shadow. This miserable existence.
Full disclosure: I’m really feeling the difficulty too.
I know, I’m the guy who writes about this stuff and is supposed to help show us how to traverse the difficult path. I’m supposed to be someone who’s a little further along the journey and point to the light of Jesus.
But do you want a lie that makes you feel better? Or the truth that allows us to lessen the guilt for not being in the place of “having arrived?”
The good news is that the truth doesn’t depend on how I feel or the strength of my faith. Nor does it rely on yours either.
Truth relies only on the power and ability of the great God we serve. The One whose work continues without error, even when we struggle with questions of how he can bring good from all of this mess.
I was reminded of this while contemplating the time surrounding Jesus’ birth.
Think about it, Mary and Joseph had to travel for miles at the end of her pregnancy all because of a greedy governmental mandate. Censuses at that time were only taken for two reasons: to know the number of fighting men who could be conscripted in the army, or to know the exact number of people who owed taxes. Both of which benefited only the government, without care of the difficulties into which it placed the people. Though, the latter one was the most likely reason for that particular census a couple of millennia ago.
And the couple’s travel time had to be during the period just before a religious festival, which greatly decreased the available space to house themselves. (Jesus was likely born near Passover in the spring, not this wintry time of year.)
On top of that, a short time after Jesus was born, God warned Joseph in a dream that the family needed to flee to Egypt. This was on account of the fact that Herod went on a warpath after the visit from the wise men, as he had every male child under the age of two murdered in cold blood.
There wasn’t much that seemed to go right during that early period of time in that family’s life, at least according to human standards.
But if we look at it from God’s perspective, his perfect plan had to unfold through these terrible moments. He’d sent his word through various prophets of old that declared very specific things about the coming of the Messiah.
He was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. Yet the Son of God was to be called out of Egypt. However, he also was to spring up like a branch out of Nazareth. How do you get a Nazarene to be born in Bethlehem yet be called forth from Egypt? The first two are on opposite sides of the nation of Israel. And the last one is a whole different country.
Well, it was the plan of God working through the difficulties of life to bring about his work of salvation for all who follow Jesus. God chose a Nazarene couple who were about to marry to raise the Second Person of the Trinity housed in human flesh. He also allowed governmental greed to place the pregnant Mary in the right city at the time of Jesus’ birth. And he permitted a national leader to choose base desires in order to commit an atrocious act of mass murder. (The guilt of choice lands on Herod because he could have chosen differently, but opted for the slaughter of children.)
Did it feel like God was totally in control of the situation in the moment? I’m sure it didn’t. Was there pain and suffering throughout that short time around the birth of Jesus? Yeah. And it would continue throughout his life, up to and including the death on a cross.
God showed his intricately woven plan through the events of Jesus’ birth in amazing ways. Difficulty and suffering that led to the glory of God and the ability for us to have a right relationship with him.
And that’s only looking at a few specifics surrounding the coming of the messianic God-man. There are far more that could be mentioned. But we’ll leave these few as adequate for the sake of time and space.
The God we follow has an intricate plan—worked down to the most minute of details—that is for his glory and our growth in him. The One who planned everything around the birth of Jesus is the same One who has planned his will for our lives. And he’s still at work through us and in us regardless of the difficulties and struggles we’re facing right now.
If you’re feeling the difficulty of believing God’s work through your struggles, you’re not alone. But even better than that, the greatness of God’s plan has a much further reach than any difficulty can have. The suffering won’t necessarily stop, and we may never really see the extent of his great work in this life, but it is truly great.
And when the great tapestry of God’s work—woven throughout all of our lives—is revealed, those times of suffering will blend into his wondrous beauty.
So continue on, my fellow sufferers. Seek his glory. Find the way to grow in relationship with him. And continue in his great work. I can promise that we’ll stand in awe of his work one day, despite the pain and questions.