Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from the new book Coming Home: Essays on the New Heaven and New Earth, edited by Don Carson and Jeff Robinson.
- When Moses Preached the Gospel by Tim Keller
- How Not to Think about Death Like a Secularist by Mark Dever
Paul’s writings are full of suffering—both in his experience and in his theology.
The apostle makes clear that it is vital for us as children of God to have right views of suffering, trial, and tribulation because they are part of God’s plan for our future glory.
Those who blame suffering, pain, and poverty on your lack of faith fail to understand texts like Romans 8:16–25. Those who imply God is surprised by our suffering do not begin to understand God’s wonderful purposes in the adversity we experience in this life.
Paul says, “We are children of God, and if children, then heirs” (Rom. 8:16). What does that mean? Of what, exactly, are we heirs? We are heirs of the Abrahamic promises. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will inherit it all. The promises of God to Abraham are yours.
But it’s not mere things you will receive. God will give you the greatest inheritance in the Abrahamic promise: himself. “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” So what does the Christian get in his or her inheritance? God! God is our inheritance (Rom. 8:17). Yet Paul doesn’t stop there. In addition to being “heirs of God,” he says we are “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). What belongs to Jesus is yours because you belong to him.
This inheritance comes, however, through suffering. We are “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified in him” (Rom. 8:17).
In verse 18, Paul speaks of “the sufferings of this present time.” Although God has saved you by his grace, you are guaranteed a life of suffering, partly because you inhabit a fallen world in which pain is unavoidable. At the same time, it is precisely because you are God’s child that you suffer, both inwardly and outwardly.
I don’t know how many times I’ve learned, forgotten, and re-learned that lesson. Suffering will catch me unaware, and I’ll throw up my hands and say, “Something is not right here. This is not how it’s supposed to be!” But Paul teaches us our suffering is the consequence of being a new creation in this old creation, and God in his sovereignty has a purpose that transcends “now” and stretches into the “not yet.”
A verse from a Margaret Clarkson hymn begins simply:
O Father, you are sovereign,
the Lord of human pain.
Sovereign Father, Clarkson says, you’re not just the Lord of blessings who has nothing to do with my pain; you’re the Lord even of my pain. God Almighty can make even suffering serve his eternal interests in us and produce a weight of glory beyond all comparison.
In Romans 8:18, Paul begins to point us to the future:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Our trials here are real—sometimes so real and overwhelming they seem beyond our endurance, so we feel like Job and regret our birth. But Paul explains that even if we count up all our sufferings, they cannot compare to the glory awaiting us. The glory of the “not yet” is put before our eyes now—but not so we can escape and sing, “Pie in the sky, by and by.” No, it is put before us so we can be strengthened to endure, engage, and bless.
When Paul says, “the sufferings of this present time,” he includes both the inward battle with sin and the outward battle with a broken world. Nonetheless, all the suffering brought to you by inward and outward battles cannot begin to compare to the glory yet to come. God uses this pain to produce the future glory he will reveal to you and in you.
God is going to make you so much like Jesus Christ that if you were to meet your glorified self now, you would be tempted to fall down and worship, as John was (Rev. 19:10). The glory God is producing in you outweighs the suffering, because through suffering you will be made like his Son.
In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn dies after a long and magnificent reign as king. Tolkien says of his body:
Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, and the valor of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.
Quite the same thing will happen to you, but you’re going to be alive! One day, we’ll meet one another in glory and say, “Perfect!” We see in part how God works in us now, and we admire his work in each other, but on that day we will be stunned by the perfection God has given.
In the Garden, the serpent basically said to Adam and Eve, “Take that fruit and you’ll be like God.” Adam and Eve should have replied, “What do you mean we will be like God? We are like God! We are created in the image and likeness of God.”
But they grasped the fruit. And far from Satan’s promise, they became less like God. His image in humanity, though not erased, was deeply marred.
In our redemption, however, God pardons and accepts us, and begins a process of remaking us into the fullness of his image. One day he will look at us and we will be like him, or as John puts it, “We shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The Lord is making you like him even—especially—in your pain.
Are you surprised by that? If your Savior learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb. 5:8), do you think it’ll be different for you? Was God was up to something in his Son? Of course he was.
Is God up to something in you, son or daughter of God? Absolutely. Don’t look at the present pain without looking at the future glory. Take heart, suffering brother or sister—God is up to something in you. He is making you like him.