We witness, and sometimes experience, awful moments of tragedy. We see incredible injustice; whether it be bad things happening to good people or good things happening for bad people. We experience terrible health concerns; some elusive, some chronic, and some severe. There is also tragic and irreversible loss. All of this can be from “natural causes,” conflict, or shear stupidity. Being “in Christ” and “walking according to the Spirit” does not lift us out of the suffering of our world. But the suffering we are witness to can consume our focus and rob us of the joy of the Christian life. If the Christian life is supposed to be a joyful life, how can we keep suffering from robbing us of our joy? How can we keep from being overwhelmed by frustration?
Paul gives us the answer in Romans 8:18. But before we read it, let me offer an example from my own “first-world-problem.” There is a kind of suffering in dieting. Indeed, dieting is the only thing I have ever wanted to give up for Lent. The hardest part is looking at the food on the table and not reaching for a second helping. “Seconds” to me is not just a wee bit more, but an entire dinner again. But I have discovered the secret of losing weight. The secret is to look at the food with only one eye. Keep one eye on the future. Look forward with eager anticipation to not feeling bloated at the end of the meal. Look forward to not feeling a sense of regret for the course of the evening. Look forward to the numbers heading in the right direction when you stand on the scales. Look forward to fitting into those clothes that have collected some dust in the closet. The momentary “suffering” of self-denial at the dinner table does not compare to the joy ahead. So look ahead. Likewise with the suffering of life; don’t look at suffering with both eyes and so letting it consume your entire focus – keep one eye on the future.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
Paul looks forward with eager anticipation to what the future holds. The current suffering of those who are in Christ is not worth comparing to to the future, either qualitatively or quantitatively. The future joy will be of far greater scale than the current sorrow. The time spent with God in eternity will far outweigh the time spent watching or experiencing suffering now. Though our suffering may seem overwhelming as we are enduring it, in hindsight it will seem as nothing when compared with our joy in God’s presence.
Paul gives us four things to keep in mind as we keep one eye on the future.
First, we are not alone in looking forward with eager anticipation. Indeed all creation is keeping an eye on the future:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now . . . Romans 8:19-22
When God looked at creation he saw that it was good. When it seems less than good in our day, we are seeing the result of the fall, the result of human sin. Thankfully for all creation, God had and has a plan to deal with that sin, and so all of creation is spoken of as looking forward to God’s rescue of His people. Creation faces frustration because of us. Creation will be renewed because of God’s love for us!
Second, in keeping an eye on the future, we look ahead to things we have never experienced.
. . . and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:23-25
The gist of these verses is “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” While we enjoy great privilege in walking with the Spirit in the here and now, there is so much more to come. Hope is caught up with the eager anticipation of something we have not seen or experienced yet; our resurrection.
Third, we are keeping an eye on a future which is beyond our understanding.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27
Sometimes suffering is so intense we are left speechless. The Spirit helps us pray when we are speechless. The future that God has in store for us will also leave us speechless. We cannot pray about our future glory without the Spirit’s help. We are not bold enough in our prayers. We often pray for an alleviation of suffering and leave it at that. What God has in store for us is so much more!
Fourth, we keep an eye on the future knowing that it is ensured by God’s ultimate rule.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30
There is much deep theology to unpack in these verses, but to keep it simple, the focus here is on God’s initiative, God’s plan, God’s purposes, God’s will, God’s way. The suffering we witness and experience can’t touch it, or alter it! Though I may be sidetracked from my diet, God does not get sidetracked from the unfolding of His will. The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to revealed to us. And with God in charge, the glory will be revealed to us.
To conclude, let us go back to the where Paul began his current summary of our rescue:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. . . who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1,4
This does not mean that life is perfect in the here and now for those who are in Christ, in fact we should expect suffering to continue. But even while we see, experience, and expect suffering, we can keep one eye on the future. Because it is glorious!