Suffering and Glory

Suffering and Glory
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Year B, 4 Easter, Romans 8:18-25


St. Paul says in the 8th chapter of Romans that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Now we love the 8th chapter of Romans – It begins with the glorious proclamation, ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,’ and it ends with the embracing comfort, ‘who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ But in between, there’re some things we don’t understand, and we feel free to skip over.

And one of those things is perhaps this statement, which on the surface seems nice, but not altogether practical: ‘that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.’

And yet this is a soaring statement about the sure and certain hope granted to all Christians, the eternal inheritance of every sinner who has put on the righteousness of Christ by faith in His finished work on the Cross. Yet to understand this soaring statement, we must rightly understand suffering, and we must rightly understand glory.

Suffering is perhaps the easier of the two to understand.

We can always find people who “have it worse than we do,” but to say therefore that we don’t really know what it is to suffer is to belittle or even to anesthetize or deny the suffering we endure. I’m not inviting you to a pity party, but each of us has suffered, or is suffering, in some way.  It’s spiritual or physical, moral or financial, vocational or relational; God seems absent, or even apathetic; we have cancer, or a dear loved one does; we have an addiction, or a loved one does; we have serious financial problems, or a family member does and is therefore probably inviting us to join them.

As he’s writing, I think St. Paul probably has in mind the suffering that he and other Christians of his era endured because of their Christian faith; if you have a family member or close friend who is hostile to Christian faith, you know something of what he’s talking about; yet there’s no type of suffering that stands outside of this verse.

We live in a broken world, and we all suffer.  In fact, all of creation groans with suffering, says St. Paul, and he’s not exaggerating. The tornadoes from a year ago, tsunamis, earthquakes, disease, heartache, you name it.  All of creation groans because all of the systems and cycles of creation are broken and unbalanced by sin. Just as in the very beginning, all of creation quivered in anticipation of the creation of humanity as the creation’s crown, so now all of creation groans in anticipation of the reconciliation of humanity to God.  All suffering is in some way related to sin; and we all suffer.

Our suffering demands every ounce of our attention, tempts us to fear and anxiety, and disorders our perspective, causing us to ask questions like ‘why me?’ and ‘can God really be good if this is happening?’ In whatever form it takes, suffering can exhaust us and make us feel isolated and make us hate our life.

But Paul says that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.

And let me tell you, the things we suffer in this present time matter – they’re very much a part of what Jesus died for.

And yet if this suffering has such power as to grab us and take over our lives, and even to contribute to the death of the Son of God, then what must such glory be that makes this enormous suffering disappear in comparison?

We have received the full and total forgiveness of our sins on the Cross, but as if that weren’t enough, St. Paul says that we have only yet received part of what we are promised in Christ; and what we have received in part we will receive in full with the redemption of our bodies at the return of Christ.  Christ is risen, says St. Paul, and we shall be too! The glory of God given to us, in us, into us, stretches from salvation to redemption and on into eternity.

We who were enemies of God, rescued from our own sinful condition quite apart from what we were even capable of wishing for ourselves, are made children of God – not step-children, not neighborhood kids who come in and rummage through God’s refrigerator for a few treats, but children, offspring of the Almighty, adopted by grace, now heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, participating in His resurrection, and heir of equal glory with Jesus.

The truth of what we have already received in the forgiveness of our sin is a towering truth, but we can look at our lives and know that that total forgiveness doesn’t drown out the suffering and brokenness of our lives or the world around us.  And yet we know that the truth of what will be our inheritance, the reality of the glory that is to be revealed to us is beyond any mental, emotional, or symbolic categories we have to actually imagine it.

But we know that it will be so sweet that the bitterness of our present sufferings will be totally forgotten and fade away with nothing but a faint recollection of gratitude that God would have prepared us for such glory in that way.

In my previous parish there was a wonderful couple who had lost their third child in an automobile accident when he was 18.  The grief was of course prolonged and intense. Holidays, birthdays, the anniversary of the accident, are all very difficult as you can imagine (and some of you can relate to directly). And yet as this couple leaned into the Lord for His mercy and comfort over the years, there was a very real sense in which they became not simply at peace with their suffering but grateful for it, wouldn’t trade it. They were Christians before the accident, but it was in the context of their suffering that they tasted the sweetness of the Lord’s goodness. It was like the difference between believing what you’ve heard about honey and actually tasting it and enjoying it. There was glory on the other side of suffering.  Friends, that’s just a glimmer of what’s headed our way, because the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Can you imagine what it will be like after the return of Christ to have relationships with other people, including and especially your family, without even the ability to have sin in the mix? No tears! No frustration! No possibility of estrangement! Can you imagine what it will be like upon the return of Christ to be so full and complete in Christ that you are actually like Christ in everlasting splendor? Don’t try too hard to imagine yourself that way, for we can fool ourselves into thinking we deserve it.  C.S. Lewis said such thoughts of our own future heavenly glory are ‘a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken” (Weight of Glory).

And yet it is God’s promise, not earned, but given in mercy; not deserved, but bestowed by grace; that we who were by right of our own sin His enemies have been made through the Cross his children, and through His resurrection, heirs of his own glory.

And with such a promise from God on high, we can be sure that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Thanks be to God.