Long-distance relationships aren’t always difficult, but most relationships experience moments of deep suffering.
For some couples, these moments last for months. With no money in the bank for a visit and no energy in your heart for crying, suffering and lament become the status quo.
We sank into a season like that during the second year of our relationship. I began to ask difficult questions of God. Why are you allowing us to suffer? Who sinned, me or my boyfriend, that our relationship is long-distance?
Jesus’ disciples asked a similar question when they met someone mired in suffering. John records the encounter:
“As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'”John 9:1-3
Jesus makes it clear that the man’s suffering was not a result of personal sin. Blindness is a result of sin in general — the cursed fallout on creation of humanity’s rebellion against God (Genesis 3)— but not the result of sin specifically.
This is encouraging to me. We can feel the effects of sin without causing it ourselves. It means that while some long-distance couples might be suffering because they’re acting in disobedience to God (the runaway story of Jonah comes to mind), most are not. Long-distance is simply up-close evidence that we live in a broken world.
The Hard Question
Still, our first question hasn’t been answered. Why does God allow suffering in a long-distance relationship?
Thankfully, Jesus isn’t finished answering. He says this man’s suffering happened “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). He then heals the man, sends him to tell the story, and returns to lead him to believe.
The man’s suffering, like ours, happened for God’s glory.
Can I be content with that answer? If God’s glory doesn’t matter to me, then no, I can’t.
But God’s glory does matter to me. Displaying the works of God is why I exist, and most of the time, this purpose brings me great delight.
Yet living out this purpose is easier when it doesn’t affect me personally. When it doesn’t keep me apart from the man I love.
When I feel this way, though, I realize I’ve misunderstood the nature of God’s glory. Romans 8:28 reminds me, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
What is good for me? God is good for me. God is the best anyone could ever offer me, and he’s working for my good.
So when God offers me himself, he’s giving me what is best for me. And nothing reveals how much I need his goodness like suffering.
Suffering is only unbearable when we are spiritually blind to our actual needs. The man’s greatest need was not the healing of his eyes, but the healing of his heart. Similarly, your greatest need is not to be near your boyfriend, but to be near your God.
Maybe that truth digs a little deep for you, but like a back massage after a tense week, what’s good for us hurts sometimes. And if we’re too absorbed with our pain, we’ll push away the person who can knead out our knots.
Displayed for Others’ Benefit
Another thing that’s striking about the blind man’s story is how God uses it to display his goodness to other people.
The rest of chapter 9 outlines how the man who was healed testified to his neighbors, family, and religious leaders about Christ. Today, his story has spread all over the world in the Bible.
This man started talking about Jesus immediately. He didn’t take a theology course on God’s sovereignty or wait until he fully understood God’s work in his life. He wasn’t even certain Jesus was the Christ. He simply told the Pharisees what he knew: “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
Are you and I willing to let the works of God be displayed in us like this man, even if it means we suffer? Can we start talking about God’s goodness even as we’re still processing it ourselves?
Like the blind man, there is one thing I do know. Your suffering is for God’s glory, and God’s glory is good.