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God's Glory in Life and Death

“God wouldn’t bring me here just to die . . . would he?” I typed these words as a newlywed huddled in a concrete house, buffeted by a typhoon on a remote Pacific island. Only a couple months earlier I had left my bride for a place I’d never heard of before that year. I had moved for a job, while Tiffany, my wife, stayed behind to wrap up our move. I was 27, and terrified of the power of nature passing over me. By some minor miracle, I could still text Tiffany and get her replies. She reassured me, but at the same time I realized the true answer to that question: God could decide to take my life, anytime and anywhere.

With the passing years that has only become more evident. With relatives passing away from terminal dementia and sudden illness, three of my children put into intensive care after birth, and a pandemic – on top of the usual marital and family stresses – it’s clear that this world is broken, and that faith in God does not immunize me or my family from the cares of this life. As Peter admonishes us, we should not be surprised at the “fiery trial” when it comes upon us (1 Peter 4:12) – and he was speaking to Christians who could literally be burned at the stake!

But while I haven’t been given personal promises from God about the length of my life, or prosperity by human standards, I have better promises: about who God is and what he does. If God sees fit to take my life or present any lesser trial, I can be assured that it is for his glory. Speaking to Israel, God explains that he knew they would rebel against him, but he tested them, refined them, and saved them for his own glory:

"For my name's sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another."
Isaiah 48:9-11

If God’s focus is on his own glory, then as a Christian the glory of God also needs to be my primary concern. God is glorified in all things (Romans 11:36). All things. This happens in two main ways: by similarity, and by contrast. When we reflect God’s nature by being godly, God is glorified through that similarity. Jesus teaches, “. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16. Yet God’s glory is also shown by contrast, much like you can tell the shape of an object by the shadow it casts. “They are worthless, a work of delusion;

at the time of their punishment they shall perish. Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob . . . the Lord of hosts is his name.” Jeremiah 10:15-16. The wickedness of man can demonstrate the heights of God’s perfection, just by showing the depths of human depravity.

It is therefore a great comfort that whether I live or die, face trials with faith, or lament my own sin, I bring glory to my God. In the midst of this comfort, my biggest temptation is to know why things unfold the way they do, to demand an explanation from God. Like Job, I try to ask questions that are too vast for me to understand. Job 31:35. But God answers by showing his supreme glory, working in all things to conform me to the image of Christ through life or death, whether or not I’m allowed to understand how it all works. Job 38-41; Romans 8:28-29; Philippians 1:19-22.

By making God’s glory our first concern, we can quiet our souls, encourage our faith, and endure all things to whatever end God has ordained for us.