In a book titled, Eternity, author Joe Stowell relates a true story. Duane “Scott” and Janet Willis were parents of nine children. Duane was a schoolteacher and part-time minister in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. They were a very godly couple devoted to the Lord and their family. Unspoiled by the greed of the shallow world around them, they happily and contentedly gave themselves to the few things that really count—rearing the family and tending the flock at church.
One day, Scott, Janet, and six other children climbed into their new van to drive north to Milwaukee to visit one of their older children. As they continued north on the interstate, a large piece of metal fell from a truck in front of them, piercing the underside of their fuel tank and igniting the gas. Immediately flames engulfed their van. Only Scott and Janet survived; the inferno had consumed the six children.
Events such as this cause us to ask questions such as: Why them? Why then? Why would God give them children and then suddenly snatch them away? And why, in a world full of neglectful and abusive parents, would God permit this to happen to a family with such godly parents? And, quite frankly, we wonder why God would allow this to happen to his own. An event such as this threatens to erode our confidence in God. It shakes the foundations of our faith.
Yet, through this out-of-sync world, there are many Christians that come out with unshakable confidence in the sustaining presence and power of the divine Lord who has promised them a better and more blessed world beyond this one. That was the perspective of Scott and Janet. When Janet Willis looked back toward the burning minivan and cried out, “No! No!” her husband’s comfort was more than just a touch. He had a perspective beyond the moment—indeed, beyond this world. Scott touched her shoulder and whispered, “Janet, this is what we’ve been prepared for. Janet, it was quick, and they’re with the Lord.”
In a front-page story the Chicago Tribune reported, “Burned, bandaged, and still in physical pain in a Milwaukee area hospital, the couple displayed extraordinary grace and courage Wednesday as they calmly presided over a news conference, they had requested to tell of how their unquestioning belief has sustained them through the loss of six of their nine children.” At the news conference, Scott said, “I know God has purposes and God has reasons…God has demonstrated his love to us and our family. There is no question in our mind that God is good, and we praise him in all things.” Clearly, Scott was in touch with something beyond this present world.
The apostle Paul comes to our aid in helping us develop a similar perspective as we look at Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The word “consider” means to “take into account” or “take an inventory of.” The term “sufferings” refers to internal and external troubles that one undergoes due to living for Christ in this world. In other words, Paul had “thought it through” and came to this conclusion:
Certainty of future glory sets us free from present discouragements.
Paul was no stranger to suffering. He went through such intense suffering that average Christians will never face. Here is a mini-list, according to his own words:
“I have…been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” [2 Cor 11:23-29].
What a list! Yet, he never grumbled or complained. So, the next time we think that the Christian life should be a life free from trials, let us recall Paul’s list of suffering and his response to it.
Remember Job? God himself pronounced Job as a blameless and upright man who feared God and turned away from evil [Job 1:1]. Yet, he went through an unspeakable amount of suffering. And like Paul, he never lost his faith or cursed God for his suffering—something that Satan said he would do [Job 1:11].
What was the secret of Job or Paul to have such a positive response to trials? They had a perspective that went beyond this present life. Job, even during the intense moments of his suffering, could confidently say, “25 I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” [Job 19:25-27].
If we were to ask, “Why Paul, do you go through all this? Is it even worth it?” this is what he would say: “I have set my eyes on the glory that is to be revealed to us. That is why I endure the present sufferings without getting discouraged.” What is the future glory that Paul is talking about? Scripture reveals two future certainties as part of this coming glory.
1. We will be made like Jesus.
In other words, we will have new glorified bodies that will be like that of Christ’s glorified body. Paul himself writes in Philippians 3:20-21, “20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
One day, this perishable, sin-infected, and sickness-prone body of ours, will be replaced by a new body—a perfect and sinless body that will not perish. It will happen when Christ returns for his people. At that time, we will no longer be able to sin nor experience any sickness. The Bible calls this event the final redemption that Christians are eagerly awaiting! That is why believers need not give in to discouragement as a result of the temporary earthly sufferings.
2. The entire universe will be changed.
Not only will the Christian be changed, but this entire universe will also be changed in the future. Revelation 21:1 reveals that in the future, there will be “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away.” At that time, there will be no more suffering or sorrow. Notice the words of comfort a few verses later, where we are told that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” [Rev 21:4].
Only in the future will the believer be completely free from sickness, suffering, sorrow, and death. It is in that new world where there will be no injustice because it will be a place “where righteousness dwells” [2 Pet 3:13]. This present universe is temporary and will one day be consumed by fire when God destroys it and replaces it with a new universe [2 Pet 3:7, 10].
Thus, future glory involves being made like Christ, being with him in worship and fellowship in a new universe where there will be no more sin, suffering, and sorrow. There will only be everlasting joy.
Just before he died, the famous atheist Jean-Paul Sartre declared that he strongly resisted feelings of despair and would say to himself, “I know I shall die in hope.” Then in profound sadness, he would add, “But hope needs a foundation.”
In contrast, Christian hope has a rock-solid foundation—God’s sure Word. Christian hope is not an “I hope I will win the lottery” type of hope. It is an “I know for sure” type of hope. It is not a “may-be,” but a “will-be” sort of hope.
It’s that kind of a hope that Paul had, Job had, and that Scott and Janet had. And it’s that kind of hope that you and I should have. God promises that we will be made like Christ and that he will bring about a new universe. And as we continually meditate on these truths, our hope is strengthened [Rom 15:4], and thus we too can successfully conquer the discouragements of this present life.
However, if one just pretends to be a “Christian” or rejects the Christian faith, their future is terrible. While glory awaits God’s true children, everlasting suffering awaits those who are not the children of God or otherwise known as the children of disobedience [Eph 5:6]. They will be resurrected to face God’s fierce, final, and everlasting judgment in the lake of fire [Rev 20:11-15]. That is why such a person needs to turn from their sins and flee to Christ now. Then and only then can there be a sure and bright hope for the future, which enables one to tackle the present sufferings properly.
Why should we, who claim to be Christians, pursue a suffering-free life in this world when that is an impossibility? Why fall victim to false teachings that promote health, wealth, and prosperity as the right for every Christian? Don’t such false teachings contradict the clear teachings of Scripture?
We are reminded that “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” [2 Tim 3:12]. Jesus called those who suffer insults, rejections, and other kinds of suffering for his name’s sake as “Blessed” [Matt 5:10-12]. If Paul, Job, and the other unknown Christians, as listed in Hebrews 11:35b-39 who were commended for their faith, went through such suffering, what makes us think that we are somehow the exceptions to the reality of suffering? Are we simply deceiving ourselves?
I am not at all suggesting we pray for trials. But we need to truly embrace that suffering is inevitable because we live in a world full of trouble [Job 5:7; John 16:33]. What God promises for his children is that his presence will be with them [Heb 13:5-6]. Let’s resolve to remember these truths from here on:
Suffering is inevitable and is a small price to pay for the incredible and gracious benefits that await us in the future. Our present sufferings are like a drop of water compared to the future glory that is like an ocean. Let’s embrace these truths and joyfully press on! If not, we will be overcome by disappointment, sorrow, and even bitterness toward God, others, and life as a whole.
Why are some Christians even today making such a positive impact? Because for them, heaven is real, and the future glory for the Christian is also real. That is what keeps them from being seduced by the things of this world. It was such a view that prompted Scott Willis to declare, “Janet and I have had to realize that we’re not taking the short view of life. We take the long view, and that includes eternal life.” In other words, they viewed the temporary through the lenses of eternity, which is why they were not crushed by disappointment.
No wonder that the Tribune editorial concluded with these words:
There are only two possible responses to the kind of loss that Scott and Janet Willis suffered last week; utter despair or unquestioning faith. For the Willises, despair was never an option.
Shouldn’t that be our perspective as well?