“For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).
This is a staggering and breath-taking statement made by the Apostle Paul. For me, two things make it truly stunning.
First, that Paul could consider his afflictions light and momentary. Can we just take a quick glance at what this guy went through?
“…With far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11:23-28)
Add the thorn in the flesh to the list too (2 Cor. 12:7).
He calls these things light and momentary. Incredible. How great and marvelous must the glory that is to be revealed to us be in order for these things to be considered light and momentary? How brilliant the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? How peaceful and pleasant the crystal streams of Heaven? How magnificent the holy city, the new Jerusalem, fit with its streets of Gold? How beautiful the eyes that have been dried of all tears? How sweet the sound of the praise chorus raised together by angels and redeemed humans? These things are beyond all comparison. God dwells with man. No more sin, pain, and death.
Second, that our earthly afflictions and sufferings somehow increase this eternal happiness.
Bonhoeffer said it this way, “Whoever avoids suffering is throwing away God’s greatest gifts along with it.”
This is really amazing. When we endure suffering with patient faith, our reward in Heaven increases. In ways only God can orchestrate and understand, your current pain or my nagging trial is accruing for us deeper joy for all eternity. There’s a divine, heavenly “connection between suffering endured and glory enjoyed.”
Piper points out, “If a Christian who suffers much more for Jesus and one who does not suffer much experience God’s final glory in the exact same way and degree, it would seem strange to tell the suffering Christian to rejoice and be glad because of the reward he would receive even if he did not suffer.” But Jesus says this in his final beatitude (Matt. 5:11-12).
These two things, I think, make it possible to do what James commands us to do in chapter 1 of his epistle, “Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…”
Also, although at times we are afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, we are never crushed, never driven to despair, never forsaken, and never destroyed.
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidian mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men.”