There are certain parts of scripture that make for great inspirational photos but are actually pretty brutal when it comes to applying them in real life.
2 Corinthians 4:17 is a perfect example:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
I can slap this verse onto a picture of a sunrise, share it on Instagram, and the likes will start pouring in. Probably also a lot of #blessed comments too. I’ll feel super spiritual.
But when it comes time for me to take hold of this verse by faith, when I find myself within the scorching furnace of suffering, when I’m being swallowed by the leviathan of suffering, my trials don’t seem like light momentary afflictions.
They seem crushing. Overwhelming. Absolutely unbearable at times.
And then I come to verses like 2 Corinthians 4:17.
I read the passage and, at least initially, feel perplexed.
Light and momentary affliction? Did Paul have any idea what he was talking about when he wrote these words? How can he possibly say that both his and my suffering classify as light and momentary?
I mean, a cold or a sprained ankle could be considered light and momentary. Sitting at the DMV is light, though not momentary. But what about the really bad stuff?
How can my ongoing depression be light and momentary? How can my friend’s stage 4 cancer be considered anything but absolutely devastating? How can the almost certain death of a little boy with heart trouble be called anything other than crushing? How can the dissolution of a church plant be categorized as light momentary affliction?
Without in any way minimizing the pain of these trials, it also seems that Paul had a different perspective than I do.
Light Momentary Affliction
If anyone understood pain, suffering, and affliction it was Paul. I mean, seriously, his trials make mine look paltry in comparison.
When God spoke to Ananias regarding the newly converted Paul/Saul, God said to Ananias, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
God had a glorious job for Paul to perform, and unbelievable pain would accompany that job.
Beaten with rods. Thrown in prison for months on end. Thrown out of synagogues and stoned to the brink of death. Shipwrecked. Deserted by his ministry partners. Accused and slandered by the “super-apostles”. Most likely executed at the end of his life. The list goes on and on.
Paul was on a first-name basis with trials.
In 2 Corinthians, he describes his experiences this way:
…but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger (2 Co 6:4–5).
Paul could truly say, “Hello darkness, my old friend.”
So when Paul talks about suffering, I should pay attention. Unlike most people, who offer frustrating and fluffy platitudes born out of inexperience, Paul offers the kind substantive, you can believe this, encouragements that can only be created by experiencing true and devastating suffering.
And this is where things take a surprising turn. Paul comes to a, “wait, what?” conclusion about all the awful things he endured for the sake of Christ.
Paul’s experience of suffering — of meeting God in the midst of suffering — has led him to conclude that everything he experienced was a “light momentary affliction”.
Read the above verse again. Afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger — he considered all these things to be:
Light. Not heavy. Not crushing or overwhelming or overly burdensome. Certainly not the kind of thing that should cause him (or me) to despair.
Momentary. Passing. Relatively quick, compared to the duration of other things.
Preparing for us a weight of glory. None of our sufferings are wasted or an accident. It is all contributing to a joyful, satisfying “weight of glory” that we will soon inherit.
Honestly, this isn’t how I tend to see suffering. When I suffer, it feels like I’m carrying around a great boulder of darkness. And I can’t see any end in sight. Every moment feels like a thousand years. The thought of staggering around, day after day, under the crushing of suffering seems like an impossible task.
Light and momentary affliction? Seriously Paul? Seriously Lord? Do you not see the kind of things I’m enduring here?