One of the questions I’m asked most frequently as a pastor is “Why did God allow (some horrific experience in their life) to happen?” God never completely answers the “why” question when it comes to suffering. However, He has given us the promise of heaven to put suffering in perspective. The apostle Paul—who was well acquainted with suffering—wrote confidently:
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17–18)
Even though Paul had been shipwrecked, imprisoned, and beaten within an inch of his life on five different occasions, he described those horrific experiences as “momentary” and “light.” How could Paul say such a thing? Was the Apostle suffering from amnesia? No; his suffering could only be considered “momentary” and “light” when compared to the “eternal weight” of the future God had planned for him.
For example, you may be experiencing a difficulty you think will never end. Yet when compared to the length of eternity it is only “momentary.” How long is eternity? One writer imagines a bird that comes once every million years to sharpen its beak on the top of Mount Everest. By the time the bird has succeeded in wearing that mighty mountain down to nothing—eternity will not have even begun! The time of our suffering on earth is “momentary” when compared to the eternality of our home in heaven!
Our afflictions—however unbearable they may seem—are also “light” when compared to the “weight” of heaven. Think of it this way: would you describe a two-thousand-pound block of concrete as “light” or “heavy”? Compared to a feather, it certainly is heavy. But compared to a fully fueled 777 jetliner, that concrete block is light.
Similarly, the most horrendous difficulties you experience in this life are light when compared to the indescribable future God is preparing for you in that place called heaven. Teresa of Avila observed, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”1 Focusing on the hope of heaven doesn’t eliminate suffering in this world but it does help us put our suffering in perspective.
Heaven is the promise that God will eventually make all things right and that He will one day fulfill our deepest longings. Although God’s promise is yet future, it should make a tremendous difference in our lives today. As Randy Alcorn explained, “If we grasp it, [heaven] will shift our center of gravity and radically change our perspective on life.”2 This is the hope of heaven—that all of creation will receive what it has long desired: freedom from the crushing oppression of sin.
How we wait for this “place called heaven”—whether with anticipation or anxiety, whether with focused or unfocused living—matters both now and in the future. For what we do on earth today reverberates in the halls of heaven forever.
- Teresa of Avila, as quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 65.
- Rand Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), 460.
Dr. Robert Jeffress is the best-selling author of 24 books, a nationally and internationally syndicated TV and radio host and the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, one of the largest and most influential churches in America Pathway to Victory, Dr. Jeffress’ broadcast ministry, airs daily nationwide on more than 900 radio stations and is broadcast live to 195 countries. His latest book, A Place Called Heaven: 10 Surprising Truths About Your Eternal Home, will release September 2017. He is an evangelical advisor to the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.