If you haven’t experienced pain or sorrow or loss, you’re either young or dead. We’re all faced at some point with the fallenness of our world and brokenness of our own hearts. A parent buries a child, a family is ripped apart by divorce, a spouse is shattered by a diagnosis. It seems we might break under the weight of such pain.
When the pain gets so heavy we don’t think we can bear it, we ask the inevitable question, “Is this worth it?”
Paul has a startling answer to that question in Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Is this some kind of Christian pep talk? No, Paul is not sharing a limp-wristed inducement, but tear-wrought lessons from his considerable suffering (see 2 Cor. 11:23-28). He shares three lessons we can all learn from as we face a world that’s not as it ought to be.
LESSON 1: SUFFERING HURTS
Paul first acknowledges suffering by calling it suffering. He doesn’t diminish the reality of sorrow and loss and sin. He calls it what it is—suffering. And sometimes considerable suffering, at that.
We often run from or ignore sorrow and disappointment. Or we try to somehow minimize it, numbing our pain. These coping methods won’t really help us cope at all, not in the long run, because we’re running to ourselves to fix our problems instead of running to God. But when we run to God and his Word with our pain, we discover a Father who acknowledges our pain and a Son who experienced it.
God knows our pain. He is not lounging in a La-Z-Boy in heaven while we’re struggling to keep our heads above water. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
When we lose a loved one, when we cry until we can’t cry anymore, when we suffer abuse at the hands of others, when we endure chronic pain, we can run to a Savior who in every way knows what we’re experiencing and sympathizes with us.
Suffering hurts. And Jesus knows it. Run to him and listen as he validates your pain and acknowledges your suffering.
LESSON 2: GLORY HEALS
Paul’s second lesson is that our suffering—considerable as it is—is hardly worth comparing to the weightiness of the glory that is to be. Elsewhere he says that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Light affliction?! Is Paul invalidating his first lesson that our suffering is truly terrible? No. He’s saying that relative to eternal glory with Christ, our afflictions, no matter how unbearable, will seem momentary.
Paul says our glory will not only be eternal, but it will be weighty. This seems like a strange combination of words. We know suffering can be weighty, but glory?
Though it sounds foreign, when we think about the joys of a lifetime of marriage, of raising children from infancy to adulthood, or of deep and long-lasting friendships, the word weighty seems fitting. Or consider even a moment of happiness—when your new spouse says “I do,” or you hold your newborn or newly adopted child for the first time or enjoy a meaningful conversation with a close friend. Certainly words like fluffy, light, insignificant, or faint don’t describe these pleasures.
No, the joy we experience in such blessings is real, substantial, significant, and large. Real joy is weighty. And it is precisely the weightiness of such joys that make our grief so weighty. Yet it seems like the weight of pain always outweighs joy, doesn’t it? Can the weight of joy or glory really outweigh the heaviness of our trials, like Paul says?
If a glory this heavy seems impossible, consider this. The same God who provided the joy you’ve experienced with your spouse or parent or child or friendship is the same God who knows what eternal glory awaits you—and he says they can’t be compared! The glory that God has prepared for every one of his children is that heavy.
Eternal joy is greater than our suffering in length of time and in quality. Christian, catch God’s perspective. See that eternal joy is weightier than even our greatest sufferings here and now.
LESSON 3: FAITH HELPS
What is it that makes this eternal, heavenly glory so transcendently, seriously glorious? That it is centered on Christ (Col. 3:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 John 3:2). Admittedly, to the skeptic, this may sound more anticlimactic than floating around on clouds and playing harps. But for anyone who has seriously considered the character of Jesus Christ, and especially for those who have found in Christ the only perfection that will satisfy a truly good God, this resonates. The joy of a consummated relationship with Christ is weightier than any suffering on earth will ever be.
The joy of heaven is not just that there will be "no more death or pain or tears." The joy of heaven is that there is no more sin to keep us from living with and being like Jesus Christ completely and forever. Unhindered and uninterrupted fellowship with Jesus is the greatest joy heaven has to offer.
Suffering will exist, for now, no matter what your worldview. But if you don’t believe in God, then you will just be looking for another solution to the suffering, another way through the suffering.
The eternal glory Paul speaks of will also happen no matter what we think about God. One day this world and our suffering will come to an end, and one day believers in Christ will be enabled to live with him forever. No one can keep this from happening.
Faith in Jesus Christ is not only the means of salvation; it is also the means by which we enjoy salvation’s promises and assurances even now. Faith is the umbilical cord that connects our infant-like perspective on suffering to the nourishment available from a God who knows what it’s like to suffer as we do.
Recognizing the bigness of God, and of his grace through Jesus Christ, will feed our souls in the midst of this momentary suffering by granting us assurance of a glory infinitely weightier than even the most crushing pain.
IS YOUR SUFFERING WORTH IT?
Is your pain and suffering worth it? Is your crippling anxiety and grief worth it?
Yes. Your suffering is truly suffering. Your pain is truly heavy. But if you’re in Christ, you have a Savior who has experienced everything you have and more. He knows exactly how you feel and precisely what you need. He knows your suffocating at the hands of suffering, and he wants you to set your eyes on the eternal weight of glory he’s preparing for you.
May the weighty joy of the Christian faith be yours, now and for all eternity.
Justin Huffman has pastored in the States for over 15 years, authored the “Daily Devotion” app (iTunes/Android) which now has over half a million downloads, and recently published a book with Day One: Grow: the Command to Ever-Expanding Joy. He has also written articles for For the Church, Servants of Grace, and Fathom Magazine. He blogs at justinhuffman.org.