But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
There are two practical principles about suffering in Romans 8 that I hope will be an encouragement to you.
Principle number one: present suffering enhances future joy. Imagine it is a hot summer day, and you decide to host a party at your house. Half of your guests are outside on the patio. The smart half are inside enjoying the air conditioning. As a good host, you decide to walk around with a tray of iced tea. First, you serve tea to your guests outside, and then you come inside and serve tea to your guests there. Which group do you think is going to enjoy that tea the most? It is going to be those who are outside in that sweltering heat. They are the ones who are the thirstiest. It is the same way with suffering. Those who suffer most in this world are going to be those who enjoy Heaven most in the next world. I think that is what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 5:6 when He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Principle number two: present suffering is real, but it is also temporary. In Romans 8, Paul compared the suffering in this world to the pains of childbirth. If you are a mom, I want you to remember the pain of being in labor: the suffering, the screaming, and the groaning. Now imagine that your husband is standing by your side as you go through that experience. He is gently holding your hand. And as you are screaming out in pain, he says, “Honey, what is the fuss about? Your suffering is just in your mind.” Or, “Honey, this is not unusual–lots of women have gone through this.” Would that make you feel better? What would be your reaction? The suffering you are experiencing is very real, and the only thing that makes it tolerable is the knowledge that it is temporary and that it is going to produce something better–a child. It is the same way with suffering. Look at what Paul said in Romans 8:25: “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” Make no mistake about it: the suffering you are experiencing is very real. When you go alongside a loved one who is suffering, do not diminish the reality of that suffering. Do not tell people that if they had more faith they would not suffer as much as they do. No, the suffering they feel is real. The word of hope you can offer to those who are suffering is this: it is temporary.
Some of my favorite words about suffering were written by Philip Yancey. He said, “The Bible never belittles human disappointment [or suffering], but it does add one key word: temporary. What we feel now, we will not always feel. Our disappointment is itself a sign, an aching, a hunger for something better. And faith is, in the end, a kind of homesickness–for a home we have never visited but have never once stopped longing for.”