November 5, 2016

Suffering is short

Bible passages about suffering always make me nervous. Life is good; so is this a warning? Do I expect the next thing that happens will bring suffering?

Suffering is no fun at all. Yet I wonder about defining suffering ever since one of our relatives said to us, “You have been through so much” and we had no idea what she was talking about. Obviously, what seems suffering for one person is not the same as suffering for others.

That said, most of the Bible passages about suffering clearly say that the hardships Christians go through are the same sufferings that Christ endured. What did He suffer? Just coming to earth from heaven had to be a shock to His system. Besides that extreme environmental change, He endured ridicule, rejection, being mocked and misunderstood, having no place of His own to live, being abandoned by those closest to Him, and of course the indescribable suffering for our sin as He was crucified.

However, after all of it, He rose from the dead, returned to heaven, and will someday reign in glory on the earth. This is the pattern. God says I will experience similar suffering but also enjoy His glory when it happens in its fullness.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13)

Fiery trials are not about fire, but some of them feel like being in a furnace or a crucible where the dross is burned away. Jesus was sinless and did not need that kind of trial, yet when He bore the sin of the world, it must have felt the same only billions more intense. Oh my. I will never undergo what He did for me.

Another trial is much less severe — the mere fact of growing older. Lest I get discouraged, God says not to lose heart. While Jesus did not age (He is ageless), He lived here for a short time to prepare for me a future that is almost incomprehensible. I will experience eternity with Him in all His glory. Even thinking about it fills my heart with a longing to be there. This life, suffering or not, is brief and fading, momentary. That life is forever, crystal clear, unseen now but then it will be all that I see and know . . .

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

All suffering is short compared to the glory God has planned for His people.

Yet God knows that His children need encouragement. He sent the Holy Spirit to speak into my heart and mind. By that wonder of wonders, He reassures me that I am His child, and again that any suffering that happens to me is not a big deal when compared to the reality of what will happen next; I will see the glory of the Lord!

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16–18)

Whatever happens, Jesus keeps me in His care. Through Him, I may suffer, yet through Him I will one day stand in the presence of God . . .

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25)

Major or minor, in the future or on the doorstep, suffering is still no fun. Yet there is joy set before me so that I can endure until that day I will never suffer again.

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