Life involves suffering and being a Christian does not exempt us from it. It's a hard reality, and many of us will already know it all too well. As we saw in Romans 8:18-30 this week, Paul takes that as a given - his question is not whether we will suffer but how we should think about it when it comes along.
After all, when we're at the sharp end of suffering we are bound to ask questions. We will yearn to explain our experience and as Christians it could go a number of ways:
- Am I suffering because God is punishing me for my sin?
- Does that mean that the gospel hasn't really worked?
- Or that I don't have enough faith in God to sort the problem out?
- Am I suffering because God doesn't love me anymore?
- Or because his hands are tied and he can't help me, despite his good intentions?
Throughout Romans, Paul wants to strengthen our faith in the gospel, so it's vital that he gives us the gospel's genuine answer to the tough question of suffering so that our faith in the gospel isn't toppled in life's storms. So what is Paul's answer?
We saw that the key to Paul's answer is to focus not on this world but on future glory. That is, the benefits of the gospel in getting rid of all sin and all of its consequences will only be fully realised in the future, in the glorious new creation. As long as we're in this world we will suffer, and it's only in future glory that our suffering will be over.
So the big truth to have in our minds is that the future glory far outweighs our sufferings in this life (Romans 8:18). And if this is our attitude, we're not on our own:
- All of creation is groaning under the curse of sin but, like a mother in the pains of childbirth, creation is looking forward to the far better future of a glorious, perfect and sin-free world (Romans 8:19-22)
- In the same way we Christians, in our decaying and sinful bodies, are groaning as we look forward to the new bodies that we will get when our adoption as God's children is fully realised (Romans 8:23-25)
And wonderfully we also saw that God is on our side to help us through it:
- The Holy Spirit himself, he who dwells in us and has perfect knowledge of the Father's will, is praying to the Father for us in our weakness (Romans 8:26-27)
- And he's praying that the Father's will according to his eternal plan will be brought to completion, that is, that we will make it to our future glorification (Romans 8:28-30)
Questions to ponder
These are the kinds of truths we should dwell on now, even if suffering hasn't really hit us yet, because it's bound to in the future. Here are some pointers to help us do that over the weekend:
- Am I prepared to face whatever suffering life throws at me?
- Am I armed with the gospel, with it's huge vision of a perfect new creation, as an antidote to despair in life's painful struggles?
- Am I looking forward to the new creation and having a new body which will be completely free of sin and suffering?
- Do I believe that it's worth remaining firm in my faith in the gospel in order to get there, because it's so much better?
- Do I really know that God is on my side, even when it doesn't feel like it?