Suffering - An Eternal Perspective
As we have seen, suffering is part of living in a fallen world. Though the penalty of sin has been atoned, and the power of sin has been broken, the presence of sin remains until the day of Christ’s return. So long as we live in “this present evil age” (Gal 1:4), we will have to endure suffering. But our sufferings are used by God for our good and his glory. God displays his authority and power and goodness in and through our suffering. God refines our character through suffering. And God uses our suffering as a bold witness of the surpassing joys of being in Christ. Indeed, what was meant as evil against us, “God meant for good” (Gen 50:20). The hymnist William Cowper wrote, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.”
There is a key that helps us understand how to process and cope with the suffering of this world. If we look at suffering with a myopic or near-sighted view, it will seem insurmountable and overwhelming. But if we view our suffering from an eternal perspective, the difficulties and hardships are put in their proper place. There are several important passages that speak to this, and a brief look at them will help to re-orient our gaze as we face suffering.
Hebrews 12:11 – For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. This passage does not directly address suffering, per se. But as it deals with discipline, it presents us with the proper eternal perspective we need when dealing with suffering. Discipline is enduring a temporary discomfort in order to yield a great fruit. When we discipline our children we inflict a temporary discomfort in order to lead them to a long-term benefit. When we train our bodies, we endure a temporary discomfort in our muscles, so that we have the longer-term benefit of strength or endurance. Discipline calls us to look beyond the immediate here-and-now. Look instead at what is to come.
1 Peter 5:10 – And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. The enemy seeks to destroy you. But we are called to resist his attacks. This verse acknowledges that suffering will occur. It does not say if you suffer, but is says after you suffer. It is assumed and presupposed that you will suffer. But after this has happened, the God of grace will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. This is because we are “in Christ.” All of these blessings come to us because of our union in Christ.
Romans 8:18 – For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Paul calls the believer to look to eternity. We all endure suffering in this present time. But the depth of God’s glory does not compare with the highest form of suffering. When people try to describe the depth of the Mariana Trench (elevation -36,069.6ft), the deepest place on earth, they don’t use Mt. Dora, Florida (elevation 184ft). The highest point in Florida just doesn’t compare to the deepest place on earth. No, when people describe the Mariana Trench, they compare it to Mt. Everest (elevation 29,029ft). Comparing even our greatest suffering to God’s glory is like comparing Mt. Dora to the Mariana Trench. God’s glory so surpasses that it would be silly to compare the two. And yet, we lose sight of this. We get stuck with this present time and forget about the depth of God’s glory. Sometimes all we see is the hill in front of us. Romans 8:18 tells us to look with an eternal gaze to God’s glory.
2 Corinthians 4:17, 18 – For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. What “light momentary affliction” is Paul referencing? In verses 4:8-12 he describes being “afflicted in every way,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” struck down,” “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,” seeing “death at work in us.” Perhaps Paul is understating it a bit when he says “light momentary affliction.” But this is what he means. All those things are momentary and transient things. They afflict us for a moment and then are gone. But there is an eternal weight of glory that remains. Our sufferings float down upon us like a snowflake and then melts at the first touch, while God’s glory is an immovable and steadfast bedrock upon which we will stand forever.
Suffering will happen. This we know. But an eternal perspective becomes captivated by God’s glory. His glorious presence becomes all-consuming to us. The pain and discomfort of suffering is but a fleeting trifle when compared to it. We will gladly endure this momentary affliction because we know that God’s eternal glory will comfort us soon enough.