“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”
Romans 8:18 NLT
Paul compares the suffering being experienced by both him and the early Christians with the wonderful benefits of the future life spent with God. The persecution suffered by the first followers of the Way is well documented, and it frequently included torture and death, particularly during Nero’s reign after the major fire in Rome. Paul himself suffered much during his missionary journeys, as we read in 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27, “… I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm”. Now that is suffering and those early Christians were not unaware of what Paul had been through, because many of them experienced physical and economical hardship as well. We Western Christians have never experienced persecution on that scale, and we hope we never will.
Having said that, however, persecution is growing in the Western societies. Secularisation is well advanced and Christians are being increasingly marginalised. Congregations are dwindling. In Scotland we are currently going through a leadership election for a new First Minister, and one of the candidates, a committed Christian, has received terrible abuse because of her beliefs – she has even been told that Christian beliefs are incompatible with government in 21st Century Scotland. Persecution in the West is more subtle. A creeping erosion of Christian values. Verbal and societal attacks on individuals who dare to speak out a defence of their faith are becoming increasingly common. Globally, Christian persecution is increasing, but we shouldn’t be surprised about this because Jesus Himself warned about such things – we read in Matthew what He said to His disciples about the end times. Matthew 24:9-10 reads, “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other”. Sound familiar?
But – thankfully, there is always a “but” – Paul reassured his readers with the truth that one day they will be with God in Glory. From the perspective of eternity, the time spent on Planet Earth is insignificant. A mere blip, a microcosm of time, too small to register. We don’t really know the extent of God’s glory. We can guess that it will be wonderful and amazing, even more so when we think that we too will share in it. We do know, though, that we cannot see God’s glory in this life. Moses was prevented from seeing even a glimpse of God’s face, as we read in Exodus 33, “But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen”” (Exodus 33:20-23).
We pilgrims must stay the course. We must not give up, no matter how much opposition and abuse we receive. In an age when many are falling away from the faith, it is even more important that we stand firm, on the Rock that is the Lord.
Dear Father God. We know the You are the only dependable foundation in a world that is shaking. We cling to the Rock – there is no other way. Amen.