Some of the most difficult verses in all of Scripture come in Paul’s second letter to Corinth: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (4:16-17, NIV).
One wonders how Paul can so cavalierly dismiss the very real suffering he experienced. As he details later in his letter, Paul was no stranger to suffering: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:25-28). How can he consider these light and momentary troubles?
How could we consider the death of a loved one, chronic illness, abject poverty, abuse, as anything but the severest trial, gross injustice, unendurable? How could we not lose heart when faced with these?
The answer is Jesus. We may endure any physical or emotional agony because Jesus endured spiritual agony for our sakes.
Our troubles in this life are momentary because Christ has won eternity for us through his sacrificial death on the cross. They are light because they are as nothing in comparison to the weight of suffering he endured in being forsaken by the Father. In Gethsemane, Christ felt the full weight of our sin. In a bit of bitter irony, the word Gethsemane means “olive press.” And here, on the Mount of Olives, Christ is certainly pressed, crushed—and the blood oozes from his pores like oil from olives. He seeks the comfort in heaven in prayer, only to find the hell of God’s wrath ready to be poured upon him.
That is real trouble—a sheer weight of agony the likes of which we will never know. Having been spared this, can we not endure a touch of persecution for his sake? Can we not yield ourselves to his plans, even when they involve light and momentary pains we had rather not know?
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (4:18). We walk by faith—a more perfect sight than our corrupted eyes could provide. We live the truth—that Jesus endured the eternal weight of damnation, winning for us the eternal weight of glory. We take heart—no matter the circumstances, knowing joy and peace, always giving thanks—that, in bearing the “mild yoke” of physical and emotional pain, we might glorify him who endured spiritual agony in our stead.