I am enjoying the first signs of spring in North Carolina. Flowers are beginning to bloom; the bare tree branches are beautifully clothed with green leaves. The grass is starting to grow. The sky is brilliant blue. And the sun shines brightly.
But as I view all this beauty, I continue to experience chronic pain that has been my companion for over fourteen years now. This suffering within me reminds me that the beauty I see around me is far inferior to what will be revealed in the new heaven and the new earth. The most glorious spring day is only a glimpse and a taste of the beauty that is to come. And when that beauty comes, there will be no more pain. We will behold the face of our beloved Savior and live with Him for all eternity, free of sin and suffering.
Romans 8 and Suffering
In the meantime, the Scriptures do not tell us that we might suffer; they tell us that we will suffer. Thankfully, suffering for the believer is always filled with purpose. The Scriptures put suffering in the light of eternity. We must do the same. The apostle Paul tells us that the sufferings of this present time will not even compare with the glory that is to be revealed in us when Christ comes again (Rom. 8:18). In our suffering then, we need to fix our eyes on the future glory that awaits us and persevere as God preserves us.
Eager Anticipation of Glory
Paul teaches us in Romans 8 that both creation and those who have the firstfruits of the Spirit (believers) are suffering. But we suffer knowing the Holy Spirit secures every stage of salvation. This life is not the end. Glory awaits us! Those who have been justified will be glorified. Because we possess the Spirit as believers, we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as daughters. We have already been adopted (v. 15), but there is a “not yet” aspect to this adoption—the redemption of our bodies. It is this for which we hope with patience. This is hard for us! Yet God calls us to it. In our suffering, we must persevere in worshiping God, accept His plan and timing for our circumstances, invite Him to be Lord over our desires, and trust Him in all things.
The Spirit Helps Us
As the hope of glorification sustains us through suffering, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. Jesus told us that we would receive the Holy Spirit as our helper who would dwell with us and be in us (John 14:16–17). This is an amazing truth! We are weak, but He is strong. Our prayers are not great, but His are. The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Think about that. Not only do we have an intercessor in heaven, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:34), but we also have an intercessor in our heart, the Holy Spirit of God, who intercedes for us according to the will of God.
All Things Work Together
In the midst of suffering, we are also assured that all things work together for good according to God’s purpose. How is this possible? First, before the foundation of the world, God chose us to be His children. Second, He initiated this relationship with us in order to conform us to His Son, Jesus Christ. Third, when God calls us the Spirit opens our eyes to our sinfulness, enlightens our minds to know Christ, renews our wills, and enables us to embrace Christ (Westminster Shorter Catechism 31). Fourth, God justifies His children. In Christ we are not guilty anymore! Jesus lived a life of obedience for us and died a cursed death to atone for our sins. Finally, God glorifies His children. He never leaves the process incomplete. God perseveres all those whom He calls until the day of glorification.
God is For Us
In the meantime, there are still suffering, sin, shame, and stressful service on this side of glory. But God is for us. It doesn’t matter who is against us because the One who is for us is greater than all the forces that could possibly be against us combined.
God has already done the greatest and most loving act by giving up His Son for His children (see John 3:16–17), so surely He will do the lesser thing of graciously giving us His peace, power and presence in the midst of our pain. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
When I’m tempted to despair on difficult days when the pain seems unbearable, I remember the truths of Romans 8—my suffering is part of life in this fallen world; in the midst of it I can eagerly anticipate the glory that awaits me in the new creation with a resurrected body that will no longer experience pain and will enjoy perfect fellowship with our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ; I can count on the Spirit to strengthen me in my weakness; this suffering is part of God’s plan for my life, bringing about His glory and my good; and God is for me in this suffering. The same is true for you today. Whatever suffering you are experiencing, God is with you and for you. He will not leave you alone but will display His power through your weakness.