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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Suffering and Glory

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
4th Sunday After Trinity 2020

Romans viii. 18. I RECKON that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Are suffering and glory connected?  Is suffering the lens through which we view our hope of glory?  If so, how does suffering prepare us for the glory to come?

These are weighty questions. One commentator says, “There is nothing like a believing view of the glory which shall be revealed to support and bear up the spirit under all the sufferings of this present time. The reproach of Christ appears riches to those who have respect to the recompence of reward,”[i]   This view is also confirmed in Heb. 11:26, where the writer tells how Moses forsook the luxury of the Egyptian court to share the sufferings of his people: ”[ii] Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

St. Paul certainly knew about suffering.  As he recounts in 2 Corinthians 11:23-25: Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.  24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;”

Yet, through it all, St. Paul never lost his hope of glory. He was fortunate enough to have had a glimpse of glory, as he stated in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 : And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)  4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” 

Yet, even without this heavenly vision, one feels that Paul would have kept his vision of glory to come, given by his unshakeable faith.  After all, he had seen the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, when he first received his commission.  

Even that experience did not come without some suffering, as St. Paul spent the next three days blind and fasting. God eventually sent the disciple Ananias to lay hands on him.  After this, he received his sight.  Imagine being given that task!  Ananias complained to God, that this was the great persecutor of the church and he was being sent to him?  Thankfully, he obeyed, and Saul (then Paul) received his physical and spiritual sight.

It’s been said (in the Book of Proverbs and Job) that wisdom does not come without suffering.  Most of us who have some level of maturity would probably agree.  How about our hope of glory?  Is it sharpened by suffering?  Or, is it blunted?  We think it depends on the gift of faith one has.  If one’s faith is deep and rich, we think one can discount the “sufferings of this present time” because of the “glory that will be revealed in us.”  On the other hand, if one’s faith is superficial, sufferings may cause doubt or even a falling away from the faith.  If this be the case, let us pray for a rich and hearty faith!

Why?  Because the scripture clearly states (Romans 8:22) “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”  We need a strong faith to survive the vicissitudes of life without buckling.  I was musing on this very passage the other day, thinking about the nature of nature itself, how things must die for other things to survive. We humans, being at the top of the food chain, constantly harvest and consume other creatures for our survival.  I frankly admit that I am a carnivore, or better put, an omnivore who eats everything!  Even our vegetarian and vegan friends do not eat without sacrifice. Plants must be killed (harvested) for their nutrition, too.

In the wild, animals must prey on other animals to survive.  It’s a tough world at its very core. Thus, St. Paul teaches us about the groaning of creation.

Yet, there is hope. “The glory that shall be revealed in us” refers to the ultimate consummation of our existence, when we will be united with God in glory everlasting.  It also deals with the cessation of pain for all Creation.  Someday, when Christ returns, all pain will cease for Creation, and for those called to His Glory.  Life will be as it was meant to be originally.

This is why we have hope.  It is why those of us in the household of faith look forward to our coming life in Christ, despite what comes our way here.  None of us should expect a perfect life here, for it does not exist. Life is necessarily flawed and imperfect here, being only a faint reflection of our life to come.

This is why we have hope.  This is why we have joy, now, despite our circumstances.         
There is a far greater “weight of glory” waiting for us, that certainly makes our current suffering look paltry and weak. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;  18 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.”

We can do this because we have a Eternal Friend and Companion in the Holy Ghost, who strengthens us and helps us through our difficult times.  With His help, we can look through the current burden of our times to the next phase of our existence, when we will exist without time, without pain, and without sorrow. 

This is our eternal destiny. It is the reason we can “…reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  AMEN.

[i] Matthew Henry, “Commentary on Romans”
[ii] lbid

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