Last year I read Greg Harris’ “The Glory and the Darkness” and loved it. I stumbled upon a free audio book version and what I thought was Darkness, but turned out to be this book (an easy mistake I feel like; they both have the word glory in it, give me a break). But I was not disappointed. Dr. Harris has given us a beautiful glimpse into why even those who are close to Christ suffer.
The book’s premise lies within what was happening in Dr. Harris’ life prior to this writing. He describes a simple story of his daughter taking candy that was rightfully his; she expected him to give it back to her but he wanted to teach her a lesson in stealing and taking what doesn’t belong to you. That expectation is something we think God may do for us: we give to Him our struggles and expect Him to give us right back and answer. It doesn’t always work like this however. Dr. Harris experienced this first hand when he lost both of his baby twins from complications during birth. Months later, he was getting out of bed when he fell flat on his face. After consulting doctors, he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis that left him in excruciating pain for months. The question he asked himself was why do sufferings occur to those, even those, who walk with Him? That question prompted a beautiful discourse on suffering in the Christian life.
If there was one central theme throughout this book, it would be the idea that suffering comes before glory. I love chapter 2 which is entitled, “the Cup.” Here Dr. Harris sets the scene of Jesus in Matthew 20 being asked if the “brothers of Zebedee” could sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory. Jesus responds:
“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Jesus’ cup was the full wrath of God on Him for the sins of the entirety of mankind; obviously they were not prepared to drink this cup. But there would be a cup for both John and Peter to drink that would leave a bad taste in their mouth. But even after this event, there is a refining process that God graciously puts us through for our benefit. One of my most favorite quotes from this book is this one from this chapter:
We should also realize we do not know or understand what we ask anymore than James or John did. A refining process occurs that makes us fit to receive the deeper blessings of God. Yet our prayers focus mostly on the removal of the very elements that God uses to bring us to the point of blessing. Is it any wonder why Paul would say we do not know or understand how to pray as we should in Romans 8:26? We pray for greatness and blessing from God and then for relief from the divine procedure that accomplishes this. On top of this, we usually blame God for unanswered prayer while all at the same time he is in the process of answering what we glibly bring before Him… It is human nature to turn away from the cup placed before us and not want to partake in it.
I’ve read that over and over and over for a couple days because of how powerful it is. Often times we pray to God a request and in order to grant that, there is a refining process we go through and yet we pray to God to take away that refining process. What is clear from reading this book is that that process is good for us; it grows us, strengthens us, makes us more mature and holy. It’s never fun to lose a child or to be debilitated by a disease, but we know that there is glory beyond this physical world for those who persevere and who place their hope and security in God.
There is much more I can say about this particular book, but suffice it to say that if you read this, your entire outlook on suffering will change. I think this is the best treatise on suffering that I have ever read (although JFR disagrees, I’ll have to check out the Piper book) and I would caution you: read this only if you want your view on suffering to be radically altered !
(And I’ll just put this out there so we don’t have to discuss it in the comments: yes, the cover is really ugly)