Suffering in Perspective


Romans 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Don’t get the idea that Paul is here offering his opinion. When he says “I consider,” he is using a word from the commercial world of business and finance. It is a conclusion which has been reached based upon a careful examination of the facts, not guesses or assumptions. The figures have been added up, and the sum total has been established.

Paul knew how things could add up on the suffering side. In his travels as a missionary, he constantly lived with some unknown painful condition he could not get rid of. “My thorn in the flesh,” he called it. He had received the same skin-ripping whipping that Jesus received before his crucifixion 5 times in his life. It was such an agonizing experience, it was considered a punishment just short of the death penalty. A number of years ago our government protested the “caning” of an American vandal in Singapore as cruel and inhuman punishment. Paul received this sort of beating with a rod at least 3 times during his journeys for no good reason.

Perhaps the suffering in your life rivals that of the apostle. Mine does not. I point this out not because our suffering counts for less if it doesn’t add up to what Paul experienced. I only want us to understand that he was not speaking from some ivory tower. Paul knew pain personally.

He also knew that it is an unavoidable part of life for those who follow Jesus. We’ve made such enemies here by following him. The Devil would like to take your illness, your loss, your grief, your anxieties, or your struggles, and use them to squeeze the spiritual life out of you. He wants to convince you God has turned against you, if he exists at all. He knows many Christians will do almost anything to escape their misery or distress, even if it means compromising their faith or denying their Savior. This side of heaven, we suffer.

I don’t need to convince most of you. Our suffering is self-evident. And yet, unpleasant though it is, Paul promises that these present sufferings “are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Is that hard to believe? We know our sufferings well. We experience them every day. We know much less about this future glory. Paul doesn’t describe it in detail. On the whole, the Bible has relatively little to say in a detailed or descriptive way about that glory. It rather tends to dwell on the troubles that will be left behind in heaven. How could that future glory outweigh our present sufferings so far, that not only does it make up for them, it really exceeds any comparison at all?

First of all, God considered this glory so important for us, such a precious thing for us to have, that he placed all the guilt for our every single sin upon his only Son, and he sacrificed him on the cross just to give us this glory. Our possession of this gift is worth the life of Jesus.

Secondly, the fact that even the Bible writers struggle to describe this glory is for our comfort. It so far exceeds any good thing we know on earth, that there is little to compare it to. The German settlers in the part of Minnesota where I grew up made a rich breakfast food called “gritwurst.” It’s so unique I don’t have anything to compare it to. I could give you the ingredients, but that would make you wrinkle up your nose, when in fact it has a wonderfully rich flavor. On an infinitely grander scale, heaven so far exceeds anything we have experienced that God simply assures us it will be pure joy.

Thirdly, in 2 Corinthians Paul describes these same sufferings as our “light and momentary troubles.” Even if our lives are sheer misery for 70, 80, or 90 years, the pain will come to an end. It is momentary compared to eternal glory. And if this glory is eternal, that means that it can’t be numbered by years. How can you compare something in time to something eternal? Our suffering doesn’t compare to what is coming. This helps us to keep our present sufferings in perspective.

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