“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.” – 1 Corinthians 4:16-17
I love sunrises. A sunrise in a clear sky during a northern Michigan winter is not only a blessing, it’s nearly miraculous. Yesterday was an exceptional one. There were wisps of clouds in the sky that seem to catch fire when the sun began to rise. It was spectacular. But by the time I could walk from my office to the bedroom (only a few steps) to open the curtains and share it with my wife, it had already begun to fade, and while still beautiful it was not as stunning as when I first saw it.
That’s the way life works. All the really good things don’t last long enough. The concert by your favorite band, that once in a lifetime vacation to a place you always wanted to visit, Christmas, reunions with dearly loved family and friends. They always end too soon. We try desperately to extend the time, but then it’s gone and we’re left with nothing but pleasant memories.
On the other hand, suffering seems to last forever. When you’re in pain, minutes turn to hours, hours to days, and days to lifetimes. If you find yourself in a difficult or dysfunctional relationship or situation it’s hard to hope that it will ever get better or even change a little bit. Time slows to a near standstill. Life becomes darkness that steals our joy. We find ourselves wondering, “when will this ever end?” We constantly ask why this is happening to us.
The apostle Paul could have thought the same way. He suffered beatings, stoning, near drowning, deprivation, hatred, persecution. He could have easily given in and given up. His take: he considered them ‘light and momentary afflictions’. Paul had a long view of things. His vision extended beyond the horizon of this life. He saw eternity, beyond what our eyes can see. He considered what he suffered as temporary because “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.”
It’s hard to think of suffering as ‘light and momentary’ when you’re in the middle of it. You can get so wrapped up in it you can’t see anything else. We can become convinced that no one else has ever experienced anything like this, and no one else could possibly understand what you are going through. Let me try. I am in the midst of the second round of treatment for prostate cancer that I thought was cured twelve years ago. My hope is the treatment will put it back into remission, but I have no expectation that it will go away completely.
Now, I have a choice. I can see myself as a cancer victim and let that dictate the narrative of my life. Or I can choose to take the long view of Paul. Yes, it’s an inconvenience and a little frustrating at times. Yes, I still have a few residual reminders of the first round of treatment. But it’s offset by the huge weight of the blessings I enjoy. God is still granting me days of life, sometimes with spectacular sunrises. I have family and friends I wouldn’t trade for the world. I’m aware there are people out there who hold me up daily in prayer, and it humbles me and sometimes brings me to tears thinking about it. But God has something even better waiting for me when this life comes to an end.
Suffering helps to focus my vision on God. It takes away the false illusion that I can control things, fix things. My cancer is not a curse. It’s my “thorn in the flesh” that reminds me I can’t control or fix things, but God can, and His power sustains me and transforms me into a vessel for his glory, broken parts and all. So like Paul, I’m content and understand that when I am weak, then I am strong.
In relation to eternity, this life is a nanosecond of time. We suffer in this life, but then Christ told us we would. The long view answers, “It was worth it.” Look beyond the horizon, and remember the One who offers to carry your burden.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, and I will give you rest, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30