Living Out Suffering in Light of Eternity

Last week, I posted to ESI about how holding on to an eternal view of life can help us battle against unforgiveness. Life this side of heaven is such a short span of time when compared with eternity; our 50 or 70 or even 100 years here on earth simply cannot compare to the reality that the hymn “Amazing Grace” describes:

“When we’ve been here (heaven) 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”

Keeping an eternal perspective as we go throughout our day to day activities can also create a paradigm shift in the way we think about the suffering that comes into our lives this side of heaven.

You need to find a way to think about and deal with the suffering that comes to you, because let’s face it – God allows suffering into all our lives. If you have yet to face a particularly painful season of life that seems out of your control…just wait. If you live long enough, you will find yourself suffering. Relationships don’t go the way you’d hoped, a loved one is in an accident, you lose your job, a close family member dies, your teenager rebels…we all end up dealing with situations that just hurt.

Often, the way we deal with suffering is to get angry about its presence in our lives. The question that pours from our lips is “Why?” Certainly I have asked God that question many times: “Why are you allowing this pain in my life, God? What good can possibly come of this situation?”

There are many answers to the question of suffering and why God allows it, and people far smarter than me have helped me understand some basic truths when it comes to life’s hardships. In particular, Jerry Bridges’ “Trusting God” and Nancy Guthrie’s “Be Still My Soul” are two outstanding resources I would recommend, as I think it’s important that each of us have a solid understanding – as best we can as finite beings – of what God is doing in the midst of suffering.

But for this post, I want to suggest that maintaining an eternal perspective on your life can help you live out a season of suffering with patience, quiet endurance and even confident hope, rather than kicking at the goads and making yourself and everyone around you more miserable.

I have often thought of Jesus’ mother, Mary, as a good example of someone who probably lived out a lifetime of suffering, and yet was able to keep a long view of what God was doing in her life.

When Mary first learned that she was going to be pregnant and bear the Son of God into our world, she was just a teenager; visited by a supernatural being announcing this impossibility was going to become reality in her life, her response seems to me to be a show of remarkable faith. It also seems to me she had no real idea what just happened to her life.

Indeed, at first it must have seemed like an exciting blessing! When her cousin, Elizabeth, first sees her and becomes divinely aware of her pregnancy, she prophesies and tells her, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:41-42)

Ultimately, of course, that was true. Mary was and is uniquely blessed to have mothered the Christ. But have you really thought about what it was like for Mary to live out that reality day after day, year after year?

  • Right out of the gate, her fiance Joseph thought she had been unfaithful and could have had her stoned for immorality. Even though he came to understand (through divine intervention!) her situation (Matthew 1:18-25), I have to think everyone else they knew – Joseph’s family, her own family, the community they lived in – continued to think that Mary had been sexually promiscuous, and that Joseph was foolishly marrying an immoral woman.
  • The rumors of her pregnancy probably faded as the years passed and Mary and Joseph raised their family, but there are hints when Jesus began his ministry that even when her son was in his 30’s, people remembered him as the illegitimate son of Joseph’s wife. In referencing Jesus as “Mary’s son” (Mark 6:3), the implication is that he was not Joseph’s son, a derogatory reminder of those rumors from long ago.
  • Jesus’ ministry was so extreme and exhausting for him that at one point Mary and some of her other sons tried to pull him away (Mark 3:21); Jesus ignored their concerns and continued in his ministry.
  • And then, of course, Mary watched her firstborn son die a shameful, unbelievably painful death by crucifixion, knowing he was not a criminal and yet being powerless to do anything (John 19:25).

When I think about some of these details, I imagine it was pretty hard at times for Mary to sync her reality with the her cousin’s declaration of a “blessed” life. She must have dealt with all kinds of suffering and injustice over several decades as people called her own character into question, and then her son’s.

And yet, the Bible gives us a hint as to how Mary was able to hang on to the bigger picture throughout her life. Right after the birth of her son, shepherds arrived in the night and began to tell her about the supernatural visit from the angels announcing the birth of the Christ. This was a confirmation of what Gabriel had told her before she was pregnant. And Mary took these things to heart and pondered them (Luke 2:19).

In other words, despite years of slights, insults and injustices, I suspect that Mary was able to endure the suffering that came with being the mother of the Son of God, because she kept an eternal perspective on what God was doing in her life. And of course from our vantage point, we can see that God’s plan for Mary’s life had huge eternal implications not just for her, but for all of us.

What might seem harder to grasp for us, but is nonetheless true, is that in this sense our lives are no different from Mary’s.

Each of us believers, in our own ways, are woven into God’s big plan to redeem His people to Himself. And as such, our lives are not our own. There are hard things that will be brought into our lives today, or tomorrow, and we may not understand why these sufferings must be. But from the perspective of eternity, whatever we are asked to endure now – even if it is a lifetime of suffering – is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed as we live out 10,000 years (for starters!) with Christ. And what it is achieving far outweighs anything we can possibly imagine (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Your response to the suffering you go through can bring God glory as you trust Him with the outcome. After all, God’s plan sees beyond your life here on earth, and has implications for eternity. Surely His plan exceeds our own. (Right?)

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