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Suffering Series: Light and Momentary Suffering
Used With Permission From “Heaven, Your Real Home”
by Joni Eareckson Tada
The apostle Paul had an eternal perspective when he said, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) And regarding his own problems, he added, “I consider them rubbish.” (Philippians 3:7)
Wait a minute. Did he say, “Troubles, light”? Hardships, rubbish”?
The apostle Peter had this perspective too when he wrote to Christian friends being flogged and beaten. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (I Peter 1:6)
Rejoice? When you’re being thrown to lions? The Christians to whom Peter was writing were suffering horribly under Nero, the roman emperor. Peter expected them to view their problems as lasting a little while? What sort of watch was he using? [Editor’s Note: Nero burned Christians on poles to provide light along the path to his palace.]
This kind of nonchalance about gut-wrenching suffering used to drive me crazy. Stuck in a wheelchair and staring out the window over the fields of our farm, I wondered, Lord how in the world can You consider my troubles light and momentary? I will never walk or run again. I will never use my hands; I’ve got a leaky leg bag; I smell like urine; my back aches; and I’m trapped in front of this window. Maybe You see all of this achieving an eternal glory, but all I see is one awful day after the next in this stinking wheelchair!
I did not buy the heavenly point of view. My pain screamed for my undivided attention, insisting, “Forget the future! What’s God going to do now?” Time does that. It rivets your attention on temporal things and makes you live in the moment. And suffering doesn’t make it any easier. It tightens the screw on the moment, making you anxious to find quick fix-its or escape hatches.
That’s what it was like as I pitied myself in my chair. When I read Romans 5:3, “rejoice in our sufferings,” my first thought was, Sure God, I’ll rejoice the day You get me out of this thing! And if You don’t, what’s going on? Are You poking fun at my paralysis? Trying to convince me I’m in spiritual denial? That my hurt and pain are imaginary? When it came to my affliction being light and momentary, God was obviously using a different dictionary.
Years later the light dawned. The Lord hadn’t used a different lexicon when He picked words like “light and momentary” to define earthly troubles. Even if it meant being sawed asunder, torn apart by lions, or plopped in a wheelchair for life, the Spirit-inspired writers of the Bible simply had a different perspective, an end-of-time view. Tim Stafford says, “This is why Scripture can seem at times so blithely and irritatingly out of touch with reality, brushing past huge philosophical problems and personal agony. But that is just how life is when you are looking from the end. Perspective changes everything. What seems so important at the time has no significance at all.”
It’s a matter of perspective. What could possibly outweigh the pain of permanent paralysis? The coordinates of the new perspective are found in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Scripture is constantly trying to get us to look at life this way. Our life is but a blip on the eternal screen. Pain will be erased by a greater understanding; it will be eclipsed by a glorious result. Something so superb, so grandiose is going to happen at the world’s finale, that it will suffice for every hurt and atone for every heartache. The state of suffering we are in here is necessary to reach the state we want (God wants!) in heaven.
Jesus spent so much energy emphasizing the end-of-time perspective because He had come from heaven, and He knew how wonderful it was. Thus, He was always focusing on end results – the harvest of the crop, the fruit from the tree, the close of the day’s labor, the profit from the investment, the house that stands the storm. He knew if we were to rejoice in our suffering, our fascination with the here and now would have to be subdued. How else could He say to those who mourn, “You are blessed”? How else could He tell the persecuted to be happy? How else could He remind His followers facing torture and death to “count it all joy”?
Nothing more radically altered the way I looked at my suffering than leapfrogging to this end-of-time vantage point. Heaven became my greatest hope. In fact, I wondered how other people could possibly face quadriplegia, cancer, or even a death in the family without the hope of heaven. It meant no more wallowing away hours by the farmhouse window, scorning Romans 8:28, and muttering, “How can it say all things fit together into a pattern for good in my life!”
It’s all a matter of time. God makes all things beautiful in His time according to Ecclesiastes 3:11. An end-of-time perspective solves the dilemma of Romans 8:28, as well as all the other problems of evil, suffering, and pain.
Pray for a concern you want God to make beautiful in His time. Thank Him in advance for His answer.
This article is part of a series that begins here.