Seeing Suffering in Light of Eternity
If there’s one thing that keeps me up at night, it’s suffering.
I’m not necessarily even talking about the suffering of my loved ones. They’re fine at the present moment. I’m mostly talking about the oppression, terrorism, abuse, illness and poverty worldwide –the stories of unimaginable evil, pain and tragedy happening at every moment, somewhere.
Maybe that’s you. Or your friend. Or child. Or you heard it on the news too.
I grieve these sufferings deeply, even if I know no one personally. And in those moments, I ache for Jesus to return.
In fact, without those moments, and when left to my sinful flesh, I would probably be completely at home in the world. But this is not fitting for the Church.
Colossians 3:1-4, one of my favorite bits of scripture, says,
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (NIV)
Because the truth is, all this suffering will one day (very soon) be but a distant memory. It will be eclipsed in the glorious presence of God as we, His followers, are swept up into eternity.
Like a woman giving birth, the unbearable pain of labor is forgotten almost as soon as the child is born. It’s replaced by new life, hope, triumph, joy and a chest-bursting feeling of love and gratitude.
In John 16:20-22 Jesus says,
Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (NLT)
Without suffering, unfortunately, we get cozy with our life on earth –our sufficiency. Our sin. Our status quo.
Suffering, however, turns us inside-out before God. It sets our eyes and hope on eternity and teaches us to cry out to, and long for, a right-side-up reality.
The eternal reality.
Evil and suffering are not of God. And while we must feel the weight of these results of sin, they will not have the last word.
God is still good. As we endure hardships and suffer in this world, we store up treasures in eternity that far outweigh them all.
As 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 puts it,
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (NIV)
If we believe God for the unseen future we call eternity, we will be renewed inwardly, day by day. And if we’re not okay with this equation, we’ve got business to do with Him. That’s our folly and an reflection of ultimate distrust in what He says is true.
In Revelation 21:1-4 John describes our eternal reality like this:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (NIV)
If you are struggling with the reality of suffering today, as I so often have, let me encourage you to shift your eyes to eternity. See through the lens of a God who’s bigger than we know and utterly good and trustworthy.