Romans 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
October 21 1966 is a date that will never be forgotten in the history of Wales. In the Taf valley a vast tip of coal slag, boulders and mud which had been dumped across a stream suddenly began to move and it rolled down the mountain at increasing velocity, millions of tons of it, crashing into the Aberfan Infants school between 9 and 10 in the morning, killing 144 people including 120 children under the age of 11. My uncle, a local pastor, lived 100 yards away from the school and spent hectic days helping people. The following year a memorial service was held in one of the non-conformist chapels in the town. The people asked Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones if he would come and preach to them. Every seat in the building was taken, and the Doctor chose to preach on the text that I’ve just announced to you. We have no record of what he said, but he has two sermons in his studies in Romans which he had preached in London about five years earlier, and I have read them with real profit this week
- OUR PRESENT SUFFERINGS.
We live in a world where we regularly hear of astonishing new atrocities. You may hear your best friend gasping when she hears the news, “Oh! Isn’t that terrible?” and such cruelties are simply unspeakable. There seem to be the thunder of such groans coming from every continent and from northern and southern hemispheres. No family escapes from one grief or another. Why are we so vulnerable to pain and suffering? Couldn’t God have designed the creation to produce less tears? Couldn’t God have made the plates that form the crust of the earth to be just a little more stable to avoid earthquakes and tsunamis? People will use the existence of suffering as a reason why they have no time for religion. “How can you believe in God when he allows such pain? Is he lacking in love or in power or both?” They declare that the Lord does not exist. What shall we say? Three little comments:
You atheists say, “It has always been like that from the beginning.” Nature raw in tooth and claw. We Christians say, “No!” At the beginning of the human race there was no sin, no suffering and no death. The freedom that our first parents received was abused and their defiance brought sin into the world and death by sin. It is we men and women, and our father Adam who have brought down all our pains upon ourselves. Don Carson says it in a manly way; “The sovereign and utterly good God created a good universe. We human beings rebelled; rebellion is now so much a part of our make-up that we are all enmeshed in it. Every scrap of suffering we face turns on this fact.” Well said. Our doctrine of suffering as Christians is more blessed than yours when it examines the origin of pain. It was caused by us not by God.
Then you atheists also say, “It will always be like this; there can be no escape from it,” and we Christians say, “No!” The groaning world will be ended by God and a new heavens and new earth will be made where sin and death and suffering will be no more. So our doctrine of the future is also more blessed and infinitely more hopeful than yours.
You atheists also say, “There is no way that man can be changed from what he is,” and we Christians say, “There is the mighty regeneration by the Holy Spirit that changes individual lives and delivers men and women from being lorded over by the sins of violence, and lust, and addictions of all kinds, in other words from much self-created suffering.” So although until the end of the world there will be pain, God prevents this world from becoming hell through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through his cross alone we may enter heaven. No other way! Do you know it? All the sufferings I could possibly endure for three score years and ten without a break – physical, emotional and mental suffering – could not earn me a place in heaven. The blood of God the Son alone can do that. That message lived out and loved and proclaimed through the people of God who are indwelt by the Spirit – that testimony by them is the light of the world. It drives away the darkness, and they are the salt of the earth. So the Christian philosophy of the present as we look at suffering, as well as our philosophy of the past and also of the future, has much more hope compared to your despairing look at the past and present and future.
Do you see what you’ve done? You have been crying for total freedom from the influence of God, but your so-called freedom has brought you and all mankind into bondage to all kinds of sin. While the seeds of greed, and prejudice, and anger, and violence, and theft, and deceit, and sexual lust, and covetousness are tolerated in your life then there’s bound to be suffering in your experience. Don’t blame God for that.
Then there is the world system – so influential and attractive – that operates without and against Jesus Christ. Look at the lack of freedom and the tyranny under which most people on this globe have to live their lives. The world hated Jesus, and it still discriminates against those who live like him. There are also the manifest activities of Satan, the god of this world, encouraging everyone to stay within the parameters of his kingdom of darkness and to walk day by day along the broad way that leads to destruction. How much suffering is due to actions of Beelzebub! Do no blame God! Do not use your own sufferings as an excuse for marginalizing the living God in your life.
It seems to me that you face one of four possible alternatives:
i] You can deny the sufferings. This is where most people begin when they deal with suffering. It’s bravery which unfortunately evolves into stoicism. It’s the attitude of Clint Eastwood and the Hollywood he-men. They grit their teeth; they show no emotions; cold, hard men, they refuse to acknowledge the pain they know and the pain they cause. There are people going through it, and if you ask them how they are they’ll tell you, “Fine!” They are “doing great.” They’re not telling the truth. There’s something in all of us that makes us pretend that all is well when it’s not at all well. We pretend the problem is not there, or that it’s not as bad as it really is. You can deny sufferings.
ii] You can get angry through your sufferings. You can get bitter, and recriminatory, and shake your fist at God. When you don&
rsquo;t deal with your suffering properly then it affects everything, your relationship with fellow Christians and with the Lord. You become self-pitying and envious. It’s impossible to hate your neighbour and also love God at the same time. Some people go on living that way for years, and then they wonder why God seems so distant from them. You have to deal with the anger within before you can get close to the God above.
iii] You can blame everybody else for your sufferings. For example, here is a man who goes through a bitter divorce. That divorce has cost him a six figure sum. You say to him, “Whose fault was the marriage breakdown?” He says immediately, “Hers,” and he’s convinced. He goes on to say, “I didn’t miss church. I helped with the young people. I read the Bible. I went to conferences, and so when our marriage broke up it was basically her fault.” You look at him and you think, “Six figures it’s cost you, and you still haven’t figured it out.” You blame others.
iv] You take your sufferings to Jesus. When the Lord Jesus was on this earth people went to him for deliverance. From demonic activity, from tyranny, from ignorance, from disease they ran to Jesus. From early in the morning to late at night they kept going to him. They were waiting before dawn for him to open the door and come out of the place where he was staying. If he sailed across the lake to get away from them then they walked around its rim and found him and further dogged his footsteps. He couldn’t get away from them. They went to him. Have you gone to him? There were two sisters; their brother became seriously ill. They took it to Jesus. There were John’s disciples whose master was brutally murdered. They took it to Jesus. Have you brought your suffering to him, the suffering of your family and your friends?
Let me tell you of a man named Tim Hansel. He died two years ago; he was three years younger than me. He had been almost killed in a fall climbing a mountain, and since that accident he’d suffered chronic pain with no alleviation. He wrote one day in a journal he kept, “I feel almost dismembered this morning by outrageous pain. It is almost comical to have reached such a ludicrous level of disorder, me, with my desire to be agile and free, barely able to get out of a chair.” What had Tim done? He had gone in his suffering to Jesus Christ. Was he healed? He asked God hundreds of times – if not thousands – for healing, and yet physical healing never came. I plead with you, let’s do away once and for all with the great myth that suffering is never God’s will for his children. The godly Tim Hansel suffered badly, but he’d had new life, a new patience, a new spirit, new resources and a new hope. He wrote twelve books; his best selling book was one called, You Gotta Keep Dancing, while he could hardly walk. He gave such striking titles to other books as, Eating Problems for Breakfast, and another called Choose Joy. He prayed this prayer, “Teach me to live in new ways, O Lord. Teach me and show me your ways in the midst of this, in times like these of such intense pain, confusion and doubt.” He knew the life of heaven in his suffering, and this remark displays one of his big convictions; “While pain is unavoidable; misery is optional.” Something else he said was this; “I have been healed from the need to be healed.” He found peace inside the pain. Don Carson says it in a fine ethical-theological way; “The staying power of our faith is neither demonstrated nor developed until it is tested by suffering . . . There is a certain kind of maturity that can be attained only through the discipline of suffering.”
When trouble comes you are faced with two choices. Either you can become a victim or you can become a student. I know a woman who caused trouble for others and got into trouble herself. A person she talked to told her that she had become a victim, and she could blame other people. So today she is exactly where she was when she made these troubles for herself and others. There is scarcely any advance that she’s made in recent years. How much better it would have been if she had become a student, and had asked herself, “What can I learn, what have I learned from this? What is God saying to me? How can I grow from this painful experience?”
I am saying to you that this is a fallen world, where suffering is no strange experience for the believer, that it is everywhere and it has come by the rebellion against God of our father Adam. While the children of Adam continue to reject their Saviour who says, “Learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls,” then they’ll be restless like the storm-tossed sea. I am saying to you, “Go to Jesus!”
- THE GLORY THAT’S TO BE REVEALED IN US.
What does Paul do with the problem of suffering? He thinks about it. We are told that he comes to a ‘consideration’ of it, he arrived at a conclusion, as a deduction, by logical thinking and reasoning. His response to suffering was not first of all emotional. His response was not one of gut feelings but of reasoned thought and true consideration. That is what Paul says in our text: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v.18). He compares two things. Any Christian who is unhappy because of suffering has not thought widely and wisely enough about it. Most of us see only our sufferings. We are acutely aware of the bad things that happen to us. We all have a story. It is a story of illness, and divorce, and death. It is the story of war, and conflict, and pain. It is the story of poverty, and abuse, and dashed hopes. All of us have such stories and we can pile up on one side of the scales those stories of the worst things we’ve had to endure. Let’s also put on that side of the scales the best things that this world can offer, our nice homes, our favourite chairs, that place of sweet, peaceful security. Let’s add to that side of the scales happy families, our parents, our spouses and our children, as well as the company of all our very best friends, all on one side of the scales, the worst things that have happened to us; the best things that have happened to us.
Then there is something on the other side of the scales and that is God. You put the living God there. The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, to the full delight of God, is infinitely better that the most pleasant accommodation and most delightful company here on earth. In the end such things are all shadows, but God is the substance. They are all pinpricks of light, but God is the sun. They are all streams and brooks, but God is the ocean, and so we think of this world as a journey to that fulness of joy and the pleasures we shall know in the presence of God. That is our highest end; that is the whole work of our hands. That is the perspective we have on life and eternity. What we have in God is incomparably greater than the worst suffering that someone has ever experience
Paul acknowledges that what you are passing through is indeed suffering. It can be wretchedly agonizing. It is not some illusion of suffering you are experiencing. It is real pain; it can seem to be beyond endurance, but what Paul is doing is to give you a true perspective on it. The perspective does not come from Switzerland and a place where men can terminate your life by injecting drugs that will kill you – without criminal charges being brought against them. That is the not the perspective by which you examine your present sufferings. Paul contrasts the suffering of the present with the magnificent glory of the future – and that’s not far away. He puts it in the most dramatic way and on the grandest scale. Pile in one side of the scales all your defeats by temptation, your shameful memories, your frustration from living in a fallen world, the injustices of this life, the persecution you’ve had to endure for confessing Jesus as Lord. Put them all on one side of the scales. Paul does not diminish or belittle your sufferings. He doesn’t mock your tears for all you’ve had to endure. He is full of compassion for your terrible pain. Then what is he saying?
It’s not that ‘you are going through enormous trials, but that when you see what’s there in glory that will just blow your mind, and what you’ve experienced will be forgotten in comparison.’ He is saying something better than that. The glory to come is going to be revealed to you like the sound of an orchestra starting under the baton of a conductor and producing the most moving, rich sounds imaginable. It is going to be like a curtain opening and a scene of the most fascinating spectacle lies before you. It is going to be like standing on the brink of the Grand Canyon before dawn, watching the sun rise and seeing the whole vast Canyon in all its colours opening up before you. Or you have flown across the Atlantic as dawn is breaking, and you have watched the dawn and the long red line of the sunrise while listening on your head-phones to an opera by Verdi, and it has reduced you to tears. Or it is like seeing your bride walking up the aisle in all her finery on your wedding day. Or it is like entering an art gallery and seeing a piece of art you had always admired but now could see for the first time in your life and you are staggered at the sight of it. You have become a spectator of something breathtakingly glorious.
Paul is saying that all you have experienced so far, the wonderful joys as well as the great griefs, are all going to pale into nothingness compared to your first sight of God’s glory in heaven, and that glory is not going to be simply revealed to you, but upon you and in you. Paul is speaking of your own glorification. He is saying, “I am not talking of the glory you will see but the glory you will enter into and experience.” When we see the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall immediately be like him, for we shall see him exactly as he is, the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his person, and then – can you believe it? – we will become a part of that glory – while of course never becoming divine. We will become as loving as the Lord, as free from guilt and shame as him, enjoying the same peace that he enjoys, as contented as he is, as gentle and kind and good as Jesus himself. Think of it!
The apostle is saying that it doesn’t matter what mental or psychiatric deficiencies we have experienced, if we’ve been reduced by a stroke to being unable to speak a single word or even show a flicker of recognition when family or friends have spoken to us – what do people say? “a cabbage like state”? The moment such a Christian will see Christ in glory then in the twinkling of an eye they shall be like him. We are to undergo a transformation of the most extraordinary dimensions, from weakness to unwearying strength, from guilt to Godlikeness, from ignorance to knowledge, from folly to wisdom, from worry to everlasting peace, from dullness to extraordinary creativity, from clumsiness to marvelous dexterity, from frustration to complete fulfilment. The only limit on what we can do will be our creaturehood and the will of God. That is the glory that will be revealed in every one of us. There is going to be such a metamorphosis, not just a glory revealed to us but in us. The commentator Bengel comes to this point in his commentary and he stops for a moment as he considers that we are going to be glorified, and he picks up his pen and he writes, “We will be glorified! O God, what are you making of us?” God is inhabiting the new heavens and the new earth with a countless number of men and women all of whom have been transformed into the image of Jesus. God loves his Son so much that all of the divine power and all of the divine aesthetic are at work achieving this end, of making each one of us – billions of us – as glorious as the Son of God himself.
In this world nobody’s completed what he set out to do. Only one man could say, “It is finished!” For all the rest of us we know we haven’t measured up, we could have achieved much more, and we are frustrated men and women. We are like ageing athletes who can remember the time when our bodies were faster, suppler, stronger, but now we can only look back to those days. Today Christians are always conscious of a gap between goal and attainment. God made us for this . . . and yet we are actually that . . . But Paul is telling us that a day will come when all our frustration will be over because the glory of God is going to be displayed in our bodies, and in our hearts, and in our minds, and in our spirits. Our ignorance as to why God allowed such a tragedy tragedy to come to us will be gone – then we will know even as also we are known. “Ah, that was the reason . . .” we will say to God with joy. Suffering is a grain of sand; glory is the Himalayas. Suffering is a teaspoonful; glory is the Pacific Ocean. Suffering is a single letter of the alphabet; glory is the 26 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Suffering is the earth; glory is the entire cosmos. The one is not worth comparing with the other. Paul said, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”
Life’s disappointments will still come, but they are only like a weaver’s shuttle because our best life is not past, it is still to come. There will yet be groanings and heartaches in each one of us but the God of all consolation and the Father of comfort will be with us to strengthen us. Our best life is not now but it lies in the future. We must fix our eyes on the future. We must keep these scales always before us and say that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us. As a Christian once said,
Then the glory. Then the rest.
Then the Sabbath peace unbroken.
Then the garden. Then the throne.
Then the crystal river flowing.
Then the splendour. Then the life.
Then the new creation singing.
Then the marriage. Then the love.
Then the feast of joy unending.
Then the knowing. Then the light.
Then the ultimate adventure.
Then the Spirit’s harvest gathered.
Then the Lamb in majesty.
Then the Father’s great Amen.
Then. Then. Then.
Not now; not in this age of “our present sufferings.” That is the contrast with the age to come. As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked when dealing with this very text: “Is anything so difficult as the problem of time? Look at it in the following way. Imagine a father and mother who lost their only son in a recent war. This is what they often say to each other: ‘How can we go on enduring it? It seems so impossible to go on living year after year, decade after decade, time seems so long.’ All they have lived for has gone, they have lost their treasure, how can they live? Time! What a burden time is when you are looking forward to something! how it seems to drag ! If you are not a Christian you have no answer to that problem; you have just to resign yourself to your fate, and get on with it. But that is not how the Christian looks at time.
“The Christian has a view which enables him to handle time as it ought to be handled. He says, ‘Yes, here I am in this world. I may have to live another ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, even seventy years. I look at it as a man, and in earthly terms, and it seems a terribly long time. But when I think of eternity, when I think of the glory that is coming in eternity, everything changes.’ Eternity! There is no end to it! Can you think of a million years? Well, multiply that by a million, and multiply that by a million, and go on and on for ever and for ever, and there is still no end. Eternity! When you think of it, what is this life of ours? ‘Brief life is here our portion’ one hymn says; and it is indeed so. ‘What is your life?’ asks James. ‘It is but a vapour.’ It is just like a breath, an exhalation. It is nothing in comparison with eternity. And that is how Christian teaching helps us, whatever the suffering, whatever the enduring. ‘Our light affliction’, says the apostle, ‘which is but for a moment.’ It is but a flash as it were; we are here today and gone tomorrow. But ‘the glory that shall be revealed.’
“Today and tomorrow are only ‘this present time’, this present age, this present passing world. The great reality is the glory that is coming, the end of time, the eternal state to which we are going, the glory which ‘shall be revealed’, the coming age. Hold to this idea, that we do not really belong to this present age, that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’. This present world is passing, transient, temporary. ‘The world to come’ is the real, the permanent world. That is the one that has substance and which will endure for ever. And it is coming for certain: nothing can stop it. That is the first step of the argument which enables a Christian, whatever is happening to him, to say, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans 8:17-39, Banner of Truth, 1975, p.40).
- PAUL IS TEACHING US NECESSARY LESSONS ON SUFFERING.
i] Suffering – a Part of the Christian life. If it were not so there would have been instantaneous divine glorification the moment we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. Would that it were so! But God has deemed it more for our good and for his glory that first we suffer a while. That is the divine pattern even for the Son of God. First the cross and then the glory and so it is for all who follow him. That is necessary, and so in this brief life let us take what God gives us and still love him. Let us glory in our infirmities. Let us bless God that when we are conscious of our weakness and need of him it is then that we are strong. Suffering in the will of God always leads to glory.
ii] Suffering – a Preparation for future glory. This life is basic training for the adventure of the new heavens and the new earth. No experience that any Christian passes through, however long and frustrating, will be without eternal useful consequences. It is all preparation working for us an exceeding and eternal weight of glory. We will soon be completely satisfied with how God has dealt with us. In heaven Peter will never challenge the wisdom of God in allowing him to deny his Lord three times. The apostle Paul will never cry to God why had he allowed him those months when he breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the church and hurt and killed Christians. Those two men will see that both in this life and in the life to come God prepared them through such events for immense future usefulness. Job will be better prepared to serve God in glory through all his losses and the tedium he endured of his so-called friends’ wearying arguments. It will all be for our eternal good. Andrew Bonar says that those who will sing loudest in glory will be those who on earth had the greatest suffering. We once pitied them but in heaven we will envy them.
iii] Suffering – Permitted by God and so never separating us from God’s love. The one great comfort that the Christian enjoys is that God loves me. He has seen me at my worst; he loves me. I can hide nothing from him; he loves me. To deliver me from pride and uselessness he permits suffering to come into my life because he loves me. He loves me in my fallenness and shame; he loves me in my darkness. Nothing I am passing through can separate me from his love. When I am cold to him, he loves me yet. When I am doubting his very existence or his goodness he loves me with a love that will not let me go. Because he loved me he began a good work in me and because he loves me he is continuing it and will continue that work until the day of Christ. God is with us every step of the way and when we get to our eternal home then every trace of this decaying world will be left behind. Let us rest under the shadow of his mighty wings.
10th June 2012 GEOFF THOMAS