Present Pain vs. Future Glory (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
[For] this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, ¹⁸as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. —2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Paul is setting down two parallel expressions that are absolutely crucial to grasp. The meaning of the two expressions will perhaps be easier to grasp if we translate them literally: momentary lightness of affliction and eternal weight of glory. Isn’t the contrast between affliction and glory clear? Affliction refers to Paul’s present bodily pain. Glory refers to Paul’s glorification—his resurrection from the dead. Affliction refers to what is going to kill his body. Glory refers to what is going to make his body come to life again. The affliction is momentary. The glory is eternal. The affliction is light. The glory is heavy.
If you put present bodily pain on one side of the scale and put future bodily glory on the other side of the scale, the glory side is so heavy that you break the scales on the glory side. It’s like putting a blade of grass on one side of the scale and all of Mount Everest on the other side of the scale. There isn’t even a scale big enough to put them in the balance. In a related text, Paul writes similarly: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
What Paul says applies to you–whatever your affliction is; no matter how heavy your burden is. Whether it be the crushing grief of having to bury a child, or the unspeakable grief over a murdered loved one, or the writhing dismay of being hated so much that you must bear the baseless accusations of a sneering mob—no matter how heavy the burden is, it is not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed in us. For those with eyes to see, all of that weight will be like a blade of grass when weighed against the mountain of mercy that God intends to pour on you.
Someone could object to Paul at this point and say, “That sounds really nice, Paul. You have a wonderful imagination. You should write greeting cards or something. But the pain I’m going through is real and heavy, and it doesn’t feel very light now.” To which Paul might reply that you are right. Your pains right now are real. You cry real tears and carry real burdens that are indeed very difficult to lift. Nevertheless, the Word of God encourages you not to let your real feelings obscure the real world that God has made and his real plans to give you an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
Whether it feels like it right now or not, the most important thing about you is not your pain and affliction—it is the eternal weight of glory that God is planning for you. Look with eyes of faith past the blade of grass of your suffering to the mountain of mercy that God intends to pour on you on the last day.
Is there suffering in your life that feels too heavy to bear?
How might meditating on the promise of weighty glory change your perspective?
Ask God to help you see your suffering through His eyes and to fill your heart with hope in His future grace.
Denny Burk is Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He also serves as an Associate Pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church, and is President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Denny is the author/co-author of several books including Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015) and What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013). He is married to Susan, and they have four children ages 16, 14, 12, and 9. His children are making their way through the Fighter Verse memory verses every weekday morning and make regular use of memorization through the songs.