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by Ted Schroder
June 22, 2018

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed." (Romans 8:18,19)

"This paragraph, from verse 18 to verse 25, is the classic statement on the question of suffering. It is not the only one, of course, but in many ways it is the most profound statement of the suffering of the Christian in this present life." (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, The Final Perseverance of the Saints, 14)

It tells us that we should look at suffering in terms of purpose, its end, its healing, its redemption. Philosophers would call it a teleological perspective: Greek, telos = end; the doctrine of final causes, the view that developments are due to the purpose or design that is served by them, e.g. a telescope brings the object in view, the end in view, it gives you a closer perspective on what is far away. The Bible continually exhorts us to look ahead to the goal of our existence in order to make sense of this present life. This is the difference between the scientific method and the Biblical message. Science looks at the past for evidence, and the Bible looks to the future. "Evolutionary theory may offer an account of what has been observed and is being observed, but it cannot predict future specifics." (A. McGrath, A Fine-tuned Universe, 194) The New Testament sees the future as providing meaning and purpose for the present. Jesus and the apostles talk about the rewards at the last day awarded to those who are faithful. St. Paul is saying that our present sufferings, as difficult as they are, can be borne by us if we know what lies ahead of us.

Jesus is the great example of this attitude. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) The sufferings of the cross were insignificant compared to the joy set before him. His reward was the exaltation of humanity to the right hand of God. We are likewise encouraged to look beyond our present difficulties to God's promised rewards.

What is our reward for all the suffering of this present life? What is it that can possibly help us to endure the troubles that we have to go through? What will make all the pain worthwhile?

To be able to handle suffering in this world we have to have a view of the world to come. Without an eternal perspective, without a teleological perspective, you cannot make sense of the sufferings of this life. Without a belief in an eternal reward, you cannot enjoy hope. We must have knowledge of the joy that is set before us if we are going to be able to bear our cross in this life.

We would not undergo surgery or treatment of any kind unless we thought it would result in a better condition, that it would help us to live more fully. I have just had cataract surgery, and it has been worth it. I am about to have some teeth crowned for the second time. I hope it will be worth it! It costs a small fortune these days. We could not face our daily lives with all the challenges we encounter if we did not think that it would result in some future joy.

What is that joy that is set before us? It is when the sons of God are revealed. Today we are flesh and blood, sinners, falling short of the glory of God. We say things we shouldn't. We do things we shouldn't. We don't say or do things we should. We are damaged goods. The sins of the fathers are continued in us. We are part of a polluted and fallen world. We are not beautiful, pure and good. There is no part of us that is perfect. But one day, we have been promised that we will be cleaned up, healed, made whole, and we shall be saved. We will have all the vigor of youth and all the wisdom of age. We will look as though we are brimming with health and beauty, while exhibiting the virtues of spiritual maturity. We will be in the twenties physically, with sixties emotional intelligence. Instead of seeing ourselves as we are now in the mirror we will be looking at ourselves as we remember we were.

There will be no more "death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things will be passed away." (Revelation 21:4) Everything will be made new. What we shall be will be revealed to all the creation. In fact, the universe, "waits in eager expectation" for this to occur. This suggests the "stretching of the neck, craning forward to see something which is approaching, of the whole splendid theatre of the universe and of all the manifold sub-human life within it as eagerly awaiting the revelation of the sons of God." (Cranfield, Romans,195) We will be making our debut on the stage of the universe.

We are sons and daughters of God now, but our final destiny is not yet revealed. We are in disguise. There is still much to be done to spiritually develop us into what we are meant to become. We are still a work in progress. Again, Jesus is an example of what Paul means by this.

Jesus lived on this earth as God the Son. He was born in a natural way, in poor circumstances. He was raised as a carpenter's son in a regular family with brothers. He took over his father's trade, and was known as a carpenter. His glory was hidden, it was veiled. His contemporaries saw him as a prophet, and a teacher. He was also a healer, and a miracle-worker. He was God come in disguise, incognito, so that no one would know him by direct knowledge but would have to exercise faith.

Many saw him as a troublemaker, a critic of the religious authorities, an iconoclast, who made life difficult for the national leaders of his day. They thought him blasphemous and irreverent rather than holy and exemplary. Some accused him of being demonic, an agent of Satan rather than the voice of God. Yet, to those who believed in him, and who were open to his revelation, he was the Son of God. One day he will be revealed from heaven in glory and honor. All the world will acknowledge him as Lord of All. "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory." (Mark 13:26)

Just as Jesus will one day be revealed for who he really is, and all creation shall acknowledge directly his power and great glory, so too we will be revealed for who we will become. This knowledge will sustain us in the midst of life with all its problems and difficulties. The perishable will be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure." (1 John 3:1-3)

If now we have a glimpse of what it means to be the child of God in our relationship with a loving heavenly Father, when Christ appears in glory there will be yet more overwhelming experiences for us. He will appear, and we shall appear just like him. We shall see him as he really is, without the humble disguise of his servanthood. He will no longer be incognito but revealed as Lord of all. Because of this hope we will be able to gradually become like him. The glory will be revealed in us.

If we know that this joy is set before us, we gain the strength to persevere in the midst of things we cannot understand. We run the race, we keep the faith, because at the finish line there is a crown of righteousness to be awarded to us. (2 Timothy 4:8) This glory is revealed to all creation. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as we run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Knowledge of this revelation will also cause us to value those who in this world appear to be insignificant and of no account. The lowest of the low, the handicapped, the mentally challenged, the poor, the weak and the disadvantaged, those who have suffered much in this life, may, one day, have the glory revealed in them. As the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed we may be in for a surprise. Those who have rejected the Lord, who have been indifferent to his call, who have been deaf to his voice, and blind to his presence, will exclude themselves from his glory. The great and the mighty, the healthy and the beautiful, the rich and the famous, the successful and the popular, may be relegated to the rear, and it is a little child who will lead them. (Isaiah 11:6) For you must become as a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven.

"Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue will shout for joy." (Isaiah 35:5,6) "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." (Daniel 12:3)

What about you? Do you want to make sense of the sufferings of this life? Do you want to enter into the joy that is set before you? Do you want to enter into the revelation of the glory that Jesus has prepared for you? Then commit yourself to fix your eyes on Jesus every day and follow him in faith, by looking forward to the goal of heaven.

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