Light and Momentary Afflctions?

The apostle Paul to the church at Corinth: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

I’ve found myself thinking lately about what I consider to be a rather arresting phrase in this verse. Paul describes the difficulty he is experiencing as “light momentary affliction.” For someone who is experiencing any kind of significant trial—and at one point or another that will probably include all of us—it could be tempting to be genuinely irritated at Paul’s characterization. Struggling with a debilitating health problem, or wondering how we will provide for our families, or facing any one of a thousand other challenges, we might say to ourselves, “Your affliction may be light and momentary, Paul, but mine isn’t!”

Is Paul out of touch then? Is he someone who, with his head so piously in the sky, has no concept of what the average person is going through in a world ravaged by sin and death?

On the contrary, consider the words Paul writes a few chapters before the verse quoted above: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death” (2 Cor. 1:8-9a).

And later in chapter four: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (vv.8-9).

All of which makes Paul’s description of his “light momentary afflictions” all the more profound. In light of these other passages, Paul’s turn of phrase is not some empty platitude but rather a carefully chosen and deeply significant description of reality. His goal is not to blithely minimize the genuine and often dismaying pain and struggle we all will likely face in the current state of affairs. No, I’m convinced it’s much more accurate to say that Paul very much wants us to take full measure our struggles, to weigh carefully the real burdens they result in, to consider the excruciating pain they can produce…and then understand them to pale in comparison to what is in store for those who trust in Christ: an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Elsewhere Paul puts it like this:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for othe revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. (Rom. 8:18-24)

I’m convinced that any hope (a sure future occurrence in this context) that can, when fully understood, relativize our very real struggles to the point of describing them as not worth the comparison, as light and momentary, is a hope worth thinking about. A lot.

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