“Lord, why do we have to do this the hard way?”
Last year I set out on an ambitious Good Friday run, wanting to conclude Lent with a time to focus on Christ’s sufferings on the cross and prepare to celebrate His resurrection. The first twelve miles were bathed in glorious sunlight. My heart soared in worship to strains from Handel’s Messiah as I wound along glistening brooks and through green rolling hills. But soon heavy snow clouds rolled in and a Siberian wind whipped across the North Sea, stopping me almost dead in my tracks as I struggled to push on across the wide-open fields. For the next twelve miles I contended with the elements, my double-gloved hands coated in an inch of frozen slush and my eyes stinging from the driving sleet. This was not fun; my exuberant praise quickly faded into frustrated survival. Why was God making this so hard on me? We had been having such a great time together. Why did He have to go and complicate it with hardship?
As I survey the scope of human history, I keep coming away with the same question. Why complicate the perfection of the garden with a fruit tree that would encourage people to stumble? Why complicate the beauty of the Church by filling her with unfinished works-in-progress who hurt each other and tarnish His glory?
The hard way leads to glory.
I have a growing suspicion that God values doing things the hard way. He has certainly involved Himself in a fair share of hardship. There were easier, much more direct ways to get His people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. Instead, God led them across a sea and meandered with them through a desert for forty years. There were nicer, more comfortable ways for Jesus to connect with God and hammer out a vision for His ministry. Instead, God led Him to pass through the river and to meander in a desert for forty days. Somehow hunger and homelessness, loneliness and danger, internal wrestling and external testing were all a significant part of God’s plan for them. But what was the point? What was all that hardship supposed to accomplish?
…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.
God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:1, 7, 10–11
Any good coach knows that answer to that one. Hardship trains us; suffering perfects us. Yes, it is miserable. Yes, we gripe and complain and wish we could squirm our way out of it. But in the end, it makes us stronger and better than we were before. It sheds our excess weight. It focuses us in on what really matters. And it sets us up for success in the great contest of life.
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 2:10–11; 12:2
So what is this great victory that we are training for? What gain makes all the pain worthwhile? We are being fitted for glory, qualified to live as adult kids in God’s house, to share in the inheritance of all that belongs to Him, to rule over heaven and earth along with Him. Amazingly, His firstborn Son is on board with that plan. He even subjected Himself to intensive training in order to make it possible. In the grueling race that we now run, we are merely following in His footsteps.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
The longer I meditate on the ways of God, the more I see a pattern emerge. He is not a God of short cuts, of easy, 3-step formulas. He does sympathize with our suffering and deliver us from trial, but not in a way that makes it all go away overnight. If anything, He orchestrates complexity and hardship in our lives in order to train us for something better than we had to start with, better than we would have thought to pursue on our own.
The hard way leads to glory.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.