May 6, 2010

"Not worthy to be compared"

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” So says the apostle Paul in Romans 8.18. That is a tall claim, isn’t it? Especially when so many people suffer so badly. But Paul knew what he was talking about. He had suffered tremendously (see 2 Corinthians 11). But he had also been granted an unspeakable vision of “the glory that will be revealed to us” in heaven (see 2 Corinthians 12). So he knew what he was saying when he wrote Romans 8.18 … even if our sufferings sometimes seem very worthy to be compared to “the glory that will be revealed in us”. No, Paul says. As bad as it sometimes is here and now … we cannot even imagine how good heaven will be! Glory outweighs grief the way the Pacific Ocean outweighs the Mississippi River. Both are enormous, to be sure. But one is far, far more so.

Let me (as one who has thought a good deal about, but experienced comparatively little suffering) make a humble stab at explaining why that is so. Why are “the sufferings of this present time … not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us”? Three reasons. First because glory outlasts grief. Our sufferings only occur in “this present time.” But “the glory that is to be revealed to us” knows not the limits of time. And, from that perspective, our griefs in this life are only “light” and “momentary”, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4.17. They are but a blip on the radar of eternity. And thus, difficult as they are to endure here and now, they pale in comparison to there and then. Glory outlasts grief.

Why are “the sufferings of this present time … not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us”? Secondly, because glory outweighs grief. That is to say, if you had a pair of cosmic scales – and you put all your accumulated sorrows on one side, and all the joys of the new heavens and new earth on the other – your griefs would go up like a withered walnut leaf weighed against a pot of gold. That is what Paul is saying here. In comparison to the pot of spiritual gold that God has prepared for us … our momentary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4.17) are “light”. Do they seem light? Not when weighed by themselves! But remember the pot of gold, as it were. Remember heaven … where glory outweighs grief.

Thirdly, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” because glory is the outcome of grief. That’s what Paul says, again, in 2 Corinthians 4.17: “Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond comparison.” Grief, he says, is “producing” glory. How so? Well, one way is that suffering can serve us as a momentary preview of hell – a glimpse, in miniature, of the kinds of emotions and hurts that will prevail every moment in hell. And thus, suffering has the capacity to give us a tiny glimpse into the pain, the despair, the hopelessness, the fear, the guilt, and the sense of loss that might be our portion forever if we don’t turn to Jesus. And by giving us just a glimpse of the potential devastation and despair of hell, suffering spurs us heavenward.

Suffering spurs us heavenward, too, in that it reminds us that this world is not our home. We weren’t meant to live like this – frustrated, depressed, lonely, or in pain. That is not God’s plan for us forever. His plan, actually, is to restore the conditions that were present in the Garden of Eden … and even improve upon them! And therefore, when we experience life’s various trials, a door of opportunity opens for us. We are given the chance – in the midst of cancer, or abandonment, or the death of a loved one – to remember that this sin-sick world is not our home; to contemplate our true home; to look forward to all that God intends and has planned for us.

So in causing us grief, “the sufferings of this present time” encourage us to flee hell and to fly heavenward – to reach out and lay hold of “the glory that is to be revealed to us”, by reaching out and laying hold of Jesus. I am sure you have often seen this to be true. It is in the moments of greatest suffering that, very often, people are most open to the good news. And it is in the moments of greatest grief that we who believe are most thankful for and restless to arrive in the place that Jesus is preparing for us. And thus grief, if we respond to it rightly, can be productive of glory!

May God give us all, in the moment of trial, strength to believe it.


katie strevel said...

O Kurt, how very true are these words--not just the words but what they stand for--their meaning.Sometimes I almost long for the hard times (note I said almost, for in the midst of them I so often wobble and would fall indeed if our dear Lord did not hold me Himself)--for it is in these difficulties that Christ is so manifest as our only Hope, our only Help, our only Harbor in the storm of trouble. Thank you for your faithfulness to write the true meaning in words. Kathy
ps..AnnMarie is doing much better. We started her on a medication(not what I wanted, but perhaps what is for her good)5 days ago and she has had many fewer 'breakdowns'with quicker recovery and has gone to bed 'Normal' for the last 3 nights--a thing that is such a blessing. Thank you for your prayers for her, for us, for me--how we need Him, our Sufficiency, to finish this journey to His glory. Do pray for AnnMarie's soul, Kurt..above all else.

Kurt Strassner said...

We'll continue to pray. Pray for us, too ... as I mentioned, I have thought a good deal about suffering, but been through only a trifling amount. May the Lord help me not only to be able to write about Romans 8 ... but to live in it; not only to write about Jesus ... but to live on Him.