God’s Glory and Human Suffering

Yesterday I attended the Colorado Rockies baseball game against the San Francisco Giants.  Since it was “Faith Day” at the Rockies game, after the game there was a concert from a well-known contemporary Christian music band.  It was all good until I heard the lead singer give a speech (sermon?) about glorifying God.  It started out good, I agree that God is to be glorified and we as God’s creation are to glorify God.  However, he went on to speak about people suffering.  That is when it all went south. 

According to the singer, both cancer and the loss (death) of a loved one glorifies God.  Now I have no doubt that a person suffering with cancer or the death of a loved one can glorify God in the midst of such suffering.  But I do not believe that human suffering itself, something which is a result of the fall of the cosmos rather than its creation, glorifies God.  If it did, why is God trying to redeem the cosmos from suffering?  If suffering, which is part of the fall, glorifies God then why does sin, which also is part of the fall, not glorify God?

I came home last night, troubled by what I heard, and picked up my Bible.  I found my way to two particular passages, 1 Chronicles 16.8-36 and Psalm 72.  In the Chronicles passage, the Ark has been returned to Jerusalem and David has just finished offering up sacrifices unto God (v.2-3).  Now David calls upon the Levites to offer thanksgiving and praise to God (v. 4) and v. 8-36 serve as that call to worship.  In this call to worship, God is to be praised because he is holy (v. 10), because of his wonderous deeds (v. 12), because of the covenant he made with Abraham (v. 16, a globaly redemptive covenant).  This is the reason for the salvation language of v. 24, the reason why God is to be ascribes with glory (v. 24-30), and the reason why the entire cosmos offers praise to God (v. 31-36). 

In Psalm 72 there seems to be some paralell themes with 1 Chronicles 16. Here the Psalmist envisions a world where judgment is rendered with righteousness (v.2), where the afflicted and oppressed are cared for (v. 4), where such a righteous judge rules over the entire earth (v. 8-11) because this is the one who redeems.  Of course, this is God and this is the reason why God name is “glorious” and the earth is to be filled with his glory (v. 19) – something that happens when the world envisioned by the Psalmist becomes reality.

To borrow New Testament terminology, the two passages under consideration seem to suggest that God is glorified when the presence of his kingdom reign breaks forth upon this fallen world.  There is no hint that God is glorified by the continuous presence of evil (moral or natural) upon this earth.  If anything, death, either by natural causes or violent causes seems to detract from the glory of God.  I stand to be corrected but I neither see where the notion that cancer and death glorify God is biblical nor how it is coherent with a view of God who seeks to redeem the cosmos from suffering and death.

So why would a Christian who has the attention of 30,000 plus spectators (most of whom I assume are Christians) suggest that God is glorified by cancer or the loss of a loved one?  I don’t know.  Perhaps, his choice of words were accidental and not really a reflection of this theology.  But why did so many cheer to such a claim about God?  That is perhaps the more troubling question for me because so many seem to swallow whatever they hear from another prominant Christian voice without any hint of discernment being employed. 

I do believe that a person can glorify God even in the midst of a tremendous battle with cancer.  For I have witnessed first hand those who have glorified God while suffering in such circumstances.  But to say that God is glorified by cancer or some other form of suffering seems not only unbiblical and incoherent with a sound theology but it also seems to paint a portrait of God taking pleasure in the suffering of others because it brings him glory.

What do you think?

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6 responses to “God’s Glory and Human Suffering

  1. Maybe he was thinking of John 21:19: “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!'”

    Or maybe John 11:14: “When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ ”

    I think I could make a case that not every death necessarily glorifies God, though. Judas, for example. King Saul.

    The much stronger point in scripture is encapsulated in 1 Peter 2:12: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (emphasis mine)

  2. Thanks Keith for reminding me of these verses. I n the case of Jesus and in cases such as that of the martyrs (who’s deaths bear witness to the gospel) there is such a thing as a “redemptive” death. This is not what came to mind when I heard “cancer” and the “loss of a loved one” being mentioned as events which glorify God. Before I moved away from Minnesota, our church was praying for a young man (both a husband and father of two children) who is fighting a loosing battle with cancer. If you could read his emails, you would have no question that Scott is glorifying the Lord in the midst of his greatest trials. At the same time, at story like this makes me want to scream “how does this glorify God?”

    Thanks for the conversation. This is a subject which we all need to be open about because there does not seem to be one person, including myself, who has the answer to this subject all figured out.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. Hey – I watched the Giants play the Rockies here in San Francisco this past weekend. Good game.

    And yes, I agree the point about suffering in the little sermon the guy gave was incorrect. Cancer itself doesn’t glorify God, but a Christian suffering well sure does.

  4. I am hoping the Giant and Rockies along with the Braves and Marlins can beat each other up while a miracle takes place and the Cubs slip ahead of them for the wildcard playoff spot.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  5. Rex,
    I don’t think the cancer glorified God but the result sure did. When my father was diognosed with cancer I was on my way down a fast road to nowhere. I was a PK but found a way out – move far far away. When I got the news I moved my family back home to help take care of him and my mother. If I hadn’t I would be lost right now. Sitting beside his bed gave him one more chance to “preach” to me and restore me to Christ. “No greater love has a man than he lay down his life for another.” I believe my father would have gladly gone through cancer 100 times to have the same result.

    Cancer didn’t glorify God, but what it brought about glorifies God – every chance I get.

    Steve Valentine

  6. Steve,

    Thanks for sharing that bit of your story. I resonate with it well. I was not a Christian when my father was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. It was watching him suffer unto death that opened my heart and mind up to God, eventually becoming a Christian.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

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