Light and momentary.
That is what our present troubles are to be viewed as in our lives.
I wish I viewed them that way. I wish I had the perspective (and encouragement) that Barnabas had when he looked at the disciples they were making in Antioch. Upon returning he shared with them that they “must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (emphasis mine)
I think many believers could echo that sentiment today. You are going through a hardship that doesn’t seem to be ending. It’s all-consuming, debilitating and crushing. But Barnabas shares this as a one-off, to continue on in the faith they have been sharing throughout the area they were in.
Then I come to Paul’s words, a companion of Barnabas on that exact trip, that tell us how he considered suffering. How he viewed it with a lens that is not easily applied. Paul tells us that our present sufferings-from medical issues, to depression, to loss, to heartbreak-aren’t even worth comparing in light of our future that is being revealed in us. “It’s not even worth mentioning” is how one text translates this.
For me, that’s hard to rectify. Suffering, and I am talking true suffering here, is shared and talked through. I don’t believe Paul is saying we keep quiet on our suffering, our brokenness and hurt, our pain and loss. I do think he’s pointing to a new perspective on it for ourselves and for others. That we shouldn’t dwell too long in it at any given point. We shouldn’t live in the hopelessness of it, the defeat of doubt, fear and anger that can overwhelm our thoughts.
But when we look through the lens of eternity-the glory and goodness of it-this suffering isn’t a blip on that. When we see what is revealed in us and through us about the God we love, it’s hard to bring the suffering up to the equal footing of comparison.
Paul isn’t making light of suffering, for he knew it’s history all too well as he wrote this at the end of a his third missionary journey. He knew of what the Romans were experiencing, and to what lie ahead. Yet he rounds out this section with the assurance of the Spirit. He helps us in our weakness, even as we groan inwardly in our suffering. The Spirit knows, even when we don’t. And as Paul wraps up the present-nature of suffering with the future-state of glory, he gives us this gift that things (all things in fact) work for the good of those who love God.
Yes our suffering, whatever it may be and where it may take us, works for good when we allow it, when we view it from the rose-colored glasses of eternity.