He had lost other a brother and many friends to martyrdom. He had himself been exiled to a lonely island for speaking the truth of Christ to an unbelieving world. In his lowest moments he must have questioned the purpose of his suffering. Why, if he had been following closely to Jesus, would his life look like this? Hadn't he been a faithful follower of Christ from the beginning? Why would God want this for him? What good would come of it?
Here is what I love about John's story: in the midst of his isolated exile Jesus showed up. In an extraordinary vision Jesus allowed John a glimpse of the future, and even more staggering, John saw Jesus himself in His glory. But this meeting was not in the midst of a thriving ministry or John feeling overly spiritual. John saw Jesus during a time of great weakness. Of loneliness. Of suffering. Possibly because it often during those times that we are acutely aware of our need for God. Walking through the shadows gives us eyes to see and ears to hear the Lord in ways that walking in the light doesn't.
I don't have answers to all the whys of our pain. I can't tell you specifically why God allows us to walk through seasons of sorrow, but I can tell you that there is great purpose in pain. My family continues to grieve the loss of my brother. It is our season of shadows. There are answers we will never have this side of heaven as to why he chose to end his own life. This world simply doesn't hold the answers we seek. But I know the One who does. God has been silent when I ask for answers to the why, but He is anything but silent about reminding me of His promise to walk with me through this monumental pain. And He is gently leading me back into light.
On days when I feel as though I'm caving in on myself I reach out to the Lord and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that He is the one sustaining me. When pain feels like a knife slicing through my heart I am overcome again by my utter need for Jesus. He is my anchor in times of sorrow and the giver of hope in an otherwise hopeless world. I cling to His promise to one day make all things new, and this eternal focus gives me a lens through which to view my own grief. Suddenly the whys no longer plague me because I know the Lord. And I know that He is trustworthy and He is good. Yes he allows me to walk through trials and tribulations but these sufferings will one day seem light and momentary when I am face to face with my Savior.
The glory and magnitude of Jesus was too much for John. He was overwhelmed to the point of being unable to stand up. But Jesus looked at him and said, "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for every and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." I wonder if John gave a single thought to his sufferings as he stood in the presence of Jesus. Gazing on the face of His Savior must have wiped away all his worries and fears. Jesus reminded John of His power and sovereignty over evil and death. I imagine the yet un-penned hymn lyrics would have rung true for him in that moment.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace
Suffering may seem insurmountable but Jesus is bigger. He holds it all in his hands. He is in control. And one day He will make everything right. And in the meantime He will meet you in your shadows and draw you to the light of His glory. One day at a time.