Tonight I am so thankful for a God who is out for His glory above all. It sounds weird, but this is probably one of the greatest encouragements we have in the face of suffering.
God is for Himself. What I mean by that is that God’s primary purpose in creating this whole crazy world is to display His character clearly. This is uppermost in His motivations. All His other designs are subordinate (or lesser), even His plan to save you and I. His number one priority is that His true character be lifted high.
And on nights like this, my friends, there is no better news.
First let me say, that many people think it might be more encouraging if God was ultimately about us and not about Himself. But this wouldn’t actually be comforting at all. That would be like a presidential candidate proclaiming that the ant hill on the white house lawn was more precious than human life. I’m guessing none of us would vote for that guy. Because ants aren’t more valuable than people. If God loved us more than Himself than He’d be an idolater and not worthy of worship. Humans aren’t more valuable than God.
The news that God is primarily concerned with elevating His true self to the world may sound hard and scary (since we’re not at the center of that story), but it’s actually great comfort for us in the midst of suffering.
A few years ago, a member of our staff put together a collection of Scripture titled ‘The History of Redemption’. He preached it as a sermon; a complete story of God’s interaction with the world told entirely through the word of God! You can see video and audio of the sermon here and we’ve put it together in an illustrated book to help encourage people to memorize and reflect on this amazing story. Some of our staff (myself included) agreed to hold one another accountable to memorizing it and it’s been an incredible challenge and an unbelievable opportunity to meditate on God and His purposes throughout history.
One of the hardest things about suffering is that it makes it really hard to believe in anything outside of ourselves. In moments of pain everything becomes a little foggy and the purposes of God seem confusing and out of reach. It seems impossible to believe that He could possibly be acting for our benefit. And if we offer comfort to one another that places us at the center of the story instead of God, I think we will miss a great hope held out to us in the Bible.
As I was memorizing and meditating on “The History of Redemption” I was fascinated to see how God ‘encouraged’ the nation of Israel in the midst of their suffering.
See, back in the day Israel was…promiscuous. Things weren’t going well. God keeps saving them from themselves, but they continue to worship idols and bring sorrow upon sorrow into their lives. In the midst of this tragic time, God comes to the suffering Israelites and brings them the glorious hope of the New Covenant; the great news that God will forgive all our sins and remember our failings no more. And the foundation of this great comfort is not that He is so enamored with the Israelites that He can’t bear to lose them. The foundation of this great comfort is that God is going to make sure that His name is clearly seen.
In the darkest and most broken moments of His people, this is what God wants them to know:
“Say to the house of Israel, it is not for your sake O house of Israel that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name which you have profaned among the nations…and the nations will know that I am the Lord when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”
RECAP: Israel is being faithless. They are slandering God’s name with their idolatry, and testifying to everyone who sees that God is not satisfying and not worthy of worship. So God says that He is going to act to make sure that everyone knows that He is the one true God. He is going to vindicate His name through the Israelites. Now, to me, that sounds like some people are about to get smoked, but that’s not how it goes down. Here’s how God plans to show His true character through the Israelites:
“I will gather you from the nations, and take you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. And I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean of all your uncleannesses and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”
So confusing is our God. The way He displays His character is by redeeming a faithless people. The way He ‘clears His name’ is by rescuing a people undeserving.
And why does He do that? Because He loves Israel so much? No – that’s not His motive. Don’t believe me? Scroll up and re-read the first line of the verse. He wants it to be really clear that His primary motive is His name.
Now – don’t get me wrong. God does love Israel. But His love for Israel is a by-product of His desire to display His character. He is an unfailing Father. He is a faithful lover. He is a gracious husband. He is a mighty God. And because this is who He is, Israel can trust that at all times He’s going to act in the way that best displays these characteristics. That’s why Israel could bank on His provision and protection; not because of anything about their lives – but because of the character of God.
This has been a long day and a weird night for me. I don’t know how to believe that tomorrow is going to be different. And we all have that in common. Every single person reading these words is going to face a hard day sooner or later. And in that day, how can we know for sure that God will provide for us? How can we know for sure that He will be faithful? How can we know that His love for us won’t fail?
We can know because God will always act to display His character. He will arrange every molecule and every detail of every day to display who He is. He is at all times acting to display His glory (or the full characteristics of who He is). And this is great news. Because He is the Lord the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.
Some days I just feel like I need God to make much of me. That’s how this world works after all. When your friend feels insecure, you encourage her with proclamations of how wonderful she is. Honestly, I think we’d all be a lot more comfortable if God behaved this same way. I think we’d all feel great about a God who whispered to us in the moments of our deepest pain how wonderful and great we are. I’m guessing that’s what Job felt like he needed as well, after he lost his family and his future and his health. Job turns to God and God – being gracious – answers Him. God’s response is a reminder of where our true comfort will be found. God launches into a magnificent speech about the greatness of…Himself.
Our God knows us better than we know ourselves. We don’t need to hear about how great we are. We need to hear about how great He is. We don’t need to take hold of the concept that we are at the center of this whole thing, we need to take hold of the one who IS at the center of this whole thing and trust Him to vindicate His name through our lives.
In the darkest moments of suffering, have hope: God is going to act to display His character. God is acting to display His character. In each and every detail, God is seeking opportunities to display His kindness, His love, His grace, His mercy, His provision. For the Israelites this news meant that they were going to be redeemed and cleaned and given the promise of a new covenant. For those of us who are children of God – it means that God is going to use our lives to display just how generous, gracious, kind, loving and good He is to His children.
I don’t know where you are today. I barely know where I am today. But I know where God is – on His throne; working every second of every moment to display just how great He is. Surely this is a great comfort for those who will cast themselves on Him.
This has been the great hope of the saints that have gone before us. It was the hope of David in Psalm 79 when he said: deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!” His hope of deliverance was found in God acting to display the greatness of His name.
It was the hope of Daniel:
 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.  O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Daniel 9:18-19)
And tonight my voice joins with theirs and I will pray following their example. I will appeal to God because I know He will act to display His true character. That is my deepest comfort.
Not for my sake, but for the sake of your great name God – rend Heaven to meet with me even now and restore me to the joy of my salvation. Use my life to display how merciful, gracious and great you are. Use my faithlessness to display how transforming your grace is. Use my fear to set the stage to display how great a comforter you are. Use my loneliness and insecurity to set the stage to display how much joy and pleasure there is in you alone.