Facing Suffering With An Eternal Perspective

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

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Each day the mirror seems to shout that the ‘outward is perishing’! I am conscious that, although we all bear afflictions, for some readers the intensity and duration of trials may be greater. Few of us, however, will have endured the scale of affliction Paul suffered. He lists some of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11 and, of course, explains his struggle with the ‘thorn in the flesh’ in chapter 12.

Twice in this chapter (see also verse 1) Paul says ‘we do not lose heart’. Were he simply to concentrate on the things which are seen he might well lose heart. Instead, he looks towards the unseen and eternal and, with this perspective, he can cope and even rejoice.  He contrasts ‘light’ with ‘far more exceeding weight’, ‘affliction’ with ‘glory’, and ‘moment’ with ‘eternal’.

As a family, we once toured Paris. From the top of the Arc de Triomphe, we could view the Eiffel Tower in the distance. My husband, Jim, popped one euro into a commercial telescope and then complained that the Tower seemed to be even more distant. There was a mixture of embarrassment and amusement when a Frenchman pointed out that he was looking through the wrong end of the telescope. There is always a danger of magnifying our sufferings and persecutions while losing sight of the glory of God.

Paul recognised that afflictions have a purpose – ‘they are working for us’ an eternal reward.

In Psalm 73, Asaph became envious of wicked people who did not have the problems he endured – in fact, they seemed to be prospering. However, entering the sanctuary of God, he was able to view their imminent, sad end. As a result, he could say that, though ‘My flesh and my heart fail . . . God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.’

The psalmist encourages us with this assurance: ‘Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning’ (Psalm 30:5).