Understanding Pain in Light of Eternity

When Pain Is Inescapable

It’s hard for us. Suffering is so real, so physical, so emotional and so life-dominating that it’s hard to think of anything but the present moment of pain. Pain in your body can be heart- and life-dominating. It greets you in the morning, it nags you throughout the day, and it pulls the last groan out of you before you fitfully sleep. You can’t run from it, because you have no ability to escape your own body.

The death of a spouse or a close loved one can kidnap your mind and hold it hostage. Everywhere you look, you are greeted by painful reminders of the person who once was. Everywhere you go seems to be dotted with memories of times shared together. A piece of clothing, a favorite book, a tree he planted, the song she loved, that picture, the piece of jewelry, or that thing that you just can’t let yourself get rid of grabs your attention and pulls the grief out of you once again.

The pain of divorce can imprison your heart. Every morning you awake in that same big bed only to be confronted with the devastating reality that you really are all alone. You constantly feel awkward around old friends because you were friends as couples, and you feel as if you no longer fit.

When Your Pain Causes Envy

All this pain tempts you to spend too much of your emotional and spiritual time and energy wishing for what once was and craving what others have that you’ve lost. Your physical pain reminds you that the people around you don’t seem to have any pain. The death of your spouse causes you to notice all the couples that are growing old together. The shock of divorce causes you to wonder why they’re all still together while you’re cursed with being alone.

You’re not aware of it, but your envy of others and the pain it produces lock you into a view of life that has a disastrous past and a painful present but is functionally without a future. It feels as if what is will always be. It’s as if life has winners and losers, and you’re on the losing team, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The End of Pain

But here is what’s vital to understand, to believe with all your heart, and to preach to yourself again and again: What is will not always be. The biblical story is not an endlessly repeating cycle; the biblical story has a perfect beginning, a dark and painful middle, and a glorious end. There is a bright light in that dark and a painful middle in the form of the only perfect man who ever lived. He came as the second Adam to succeed where the first Adam failed. He won an eternal victory on a criminal’s cross for you. This tells you that you’re on the winning team. His victory is your victory, and that victory guarantees that the pain that now seems inescapable, you will not have to live with forever.

Thousands of years into eternity, as you’re living in a perfect world that has been made new in every way, you’ll look back on what now seems unbearable and inescapable as a brief flash of difficulty. It’s hard to grasp, but try; there will be a day when you will look back at this huge and horrible thing, and it will look to you like a little thing. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:16–17, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

You see, you and I only ever really understand the painful trials of this moment when we look at them through the lens of eternity. This is one reason that envy is so devastating, because to the degree that it locks you in the cycle of daily comparing your life to others, to that degree it robs you of the glorious, hope-giving comforts of eternity. Eternity tells you that you aren’t cursed with less but guaranteed gloriously more than anything you look around and envy in this present world. No matter what the next day brings, your future is bright, because a victory has been won for you. You can’t let patterns of envy rob you of the comforts of eternity.

Content adapted from Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul David Tripp. The article first appeared on Crossway.org; used with permission.