An axiom of the Christian life is, Those who are truly saved will suffer. Living in the here and now means some degree of struggle. This point is made in Romans 8:17, “And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” There is a requisite suffering that comes before glory.
“Suffering” here is broad—not just the suffering for being a follower of Christ, but the whole gamut of suffering, including illness, hunger, financial reverses, loss, disappointments, bereavement, and death itself. We still have a sinful nature; we still live in bodies that are corruptible and exist in a world in rebellion against God.
The reality is that even though we are children of God, loved, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we will face difficult life problems that will knock us to the ground. A dear friend is found to have malignant cancer, you lose a job after many faithful years of service, your child passes before you do, or you are threatened with a lawsuit unfairly. Life can be unbearable at times.
How can we face this suffering?
1. We must consider our future glory (Rom. 8:18)
The Bible says our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. It is not that we should weigh the present sufferings against future glory; no. The Bible says present sufferings are not worthy to be compared. The glory to come is so wonderful, so far above, of so much greater value that it is no comparison.
A primary help in the struggle with suffering is to remember just how wonderful our future will be. It is not about getting the new job or finding an answer to our health problem; it is instead focusing on the richness of what we will receive in eternity. In some ways this is the only answer that will help. A temporary fix will not solve the broken system we live in now. We must look ahead with the long view and realize that the joys to come are real and amazing.
We need to be reminded that we will be in God’s presence, that our bodies will be transformed, that we will exist with no tears, no pain, no sorrow or death, that we will behold the beauty of Heaven, the throne of God, dwelling in endless bliss. Paul was given a view of Heaven. The Bible gives us some descriptions of the throne of God with colors and words that are limited by human vocabulary. The corruptible will put on incorruption. What a day that will be.
2. We must expectantly wait (Rom. 8:19–25)
The creation groans, anticipating its freeing from a frustrated functioning (Rom. 8:19–22). The subhuman world was judged at the Fall of humankind (Gen. 3:15–17), but it was judged “in hope.” Its day of liberation is associated with the future revelation of the sons of God. This likely refers to the Second Coming of Christ before the Millennium, when God will publicly manifest our real status as Christians and there will be phenomenal changes in the created world. Right now the children of God suffer and experience weakness. At this point we live in a world that is experiencing futility and frustration, but there is coming a day of victory.
The Christian also groans, awaiting a final redemption (Rom. 8:23–25). The believer has been given the firstfruit of the Holy Spirit, a kind of first installment of what is to come. Experiencing His presence and the new life that He brings to us, we groan, longing for the final phase or our adoption and redemption. Especially here we will rejoice in the transformation of our bodies, the vessels that have felt the pain of earthly sins and heartaches. This waiting is done in the sphere of hope. We hope in what we cannot see—and we wait for it with patience. The waiting is not easy as we labor through the day-by-day heavy gravity of suffering. But one day we will fly, we will float, we will be light of heart with a new joy and righteous freedom—transformed.
In the dreary world of suffering, maybe you have lost sight of the glory. Look up! Hope again. You were saved “in hope.”
Our help is not in a Pollyanna “glad game.” Our hope is a focus on our heavenly Home.
A family loses its home because of job loss and a financial downward spiral. Look to Glory.
A church friend is diagnosed with cancer. Look to Glory.
You stand by the bedside of a loved one in hospice care. Look to Glory.
Bryan Augsburger (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is pastor of First Baptist Church, Arlington Heights, Ill., and a member of the GARBC Council of Eighteen.