How Can Crushing Suffering Be A Light Momentary Affliction?

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?

How can Paul (and the Lord) say that my (and your) sufferings are light and momentary?

Is this some sort Buddhist-like mental jiujitsu where everything is embraced and you live in the moment and all that jazz?

No, it’s much more profound.

The only way Paul comes to his conclusion is by looking at the final product.

He looks to the end.

Helpful Resource:

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Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials
Dave Furman - Publisher: Crossway - Paperback: 160 pages
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An Eternal Weight Of Glory

You could say that Paul has an eternal “scale” in mind. The reason Paul can say that troubles and trials, no matter how breathtaking and enormous, are light and momentary is because he’s looking at the final product.

In a way that I can’t fully comprehend, every wave of sorrow and grief and hardship that crashes over me is being used by God to prepare “an eternal weight of glory” for me.

I take this to mean two wonderful, delightful, eternally weighty things.

The Reward

The first is that when I honor God in the midst of suffering by trusting him, hoping in him, relying on him, and not deserting him, God will reward me for that in eternity.

In other words, God desires to bless and reward me in the age to come, and so he allows me to walk through the apocalyptic Valley of Death to prepare the reward for me.

So when Paul says suffering is a light and momentary affliction, he’s saying that compared to the reward that’s to come, it’s a mere pittance.

The reward is massively disproportionate to the suffering! 

In his bookWalking With God Through Pain and SufferingTim Keller puts it this way:

weight of glory

We may suffer deeply now, but there a glorious coming joy.

But that’s not all.

The Preparation

There also seems to be a sense in which suffering actually prepares me to partake in and enjoy all the good that God has stored up for me in the age to come. Through suffering, he shapes me into the image of Christ, and if he didn’t do that, I couldn’t receive all the overwhelming good he desires for me.

Because the reward is so incredibly massive, I must be prepared to receive it.

This is a pretty pathetic analogy but think of it like this. If I suddenly became the heir to the British royal family, I would have absolutely ZERO idea how to enjoy all that was available to me. There would be 10,000 aspects of royal life that I didn’t even know existed. In order to properly embrace the royal inheritance, a huge amount of preparation would be needed.

I think this analogy barely touches on what Paul means, but you get the point. Again, to quote Keller:

flow of eternity

Our sufferings now are transforming us into the image of Christ, and that transformation is necessary if we’re going to enjoy the weight of glory that’s being prepared for us.

Helpful Resource:

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering
Timothy Keller - Penguin Books - Kindle Edition - Edition no. 0 (10/01/2013)

All Things Must Work Together

I absolutely love how the Heidelberg Catechism says it:

He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.

Every bit of anguish and grief, every piercing arrow of sorrow, every heartache and headache and hurricane is working for my salvation.

Don’t be mistaken: God does not dispense suffering lightly or glibly. He doesn’t take pleasure in making his people walk through darkness.

But he knows that in order for us to fully enjoy him and experience the coming glory of his presence, we must be prepared.

And so he gently, carefully, and expertly places light and momentary afflictions upon us.


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Stephen Altrogge

I'm a husband, dad, writer. I drink too much coffee and know too much about Star Wars. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook

13 comments

  • Thank you, I’m sure many need this encouragement. I know I do.

    The Lord bless you.

  • Being someone who also struggles with depression, PTSD and attachment disorder I have struggled all my life trying to figure out why would God ever love me. Which became a depilating illness.

    Stephen, I have read others blog notes by you and I’m always impressed.

    It is true, that compared to eternity our suffering, I suppose, is minuscule. But, in the here and now when someone minimizes my suffering, or calls me lazy and a variety of other name slayings it hurts and it all only adds to the already debilitated state of mind.

    So, what is one to do about it?

    One thing that I personally have started doing is to exchange the word ‘suffering’ to the word ‘challenge’. For me, that word signifies action and hope.

    Also, I find reading the psalms comverting. I also have the computer read them to me.

    • Hey Bren,

      So sorry to hear about all your struggles. I too find the Psalms very comforting. And I’m so glad we have technology that can read to us!

  • Thanks for the article. I’m especially struggling with the Preparation section though. I don’t see how most of the suffering we undergo prepares us for heaven (or the new heavens and earth). Here are some questions I have about this:

    – Clearly, we don’t experience similar levels of suffering (and don’t respond similarly either). Are some not being prepared…fully? How much preparation is needed?

    – Isn’t it a central fact of the Gospel that we cannot be fully (or even a significant fraction) prepared through suffering? Christ’s suffering pays for our sins and His righteousness is given to us as our own? It can produce much fruit in this life, assuming it is not just before you get killed, but sometimes it doesn’t seem to produce fruit here, too.
    How could that translate into being better prepared? My hope is that I will be made perfect in Christ. I have no ability to be perfected in this life (or purgatory, for that matter).

    – How is this idea related to eternal rewards and our enjoyment of God in heaven? This notion of preparation, and the knowledge of eternal rewards, sometimes makes we feel like I’m on another performance-related treadmill…and that I’ll never measure up. Not here and not in heaven either. I can only hold onto the idea that there will be no tears, etc., but I don’t seem to be able to be that great of a Christian in terms of experiencing suffering, serving others enough, etc.

    • Hey David,

      Good questions. It seems like maybe you’re conflating our preparation and reward with Christ’s preparation and reward. You are 100% right that Christ suffered and died in our place and that our righteousness is from him and him only.

      But scripture also makes it clear that everything we experience, including all pain and suffering, are being used by God to shape us into the image of Christ. And so while we all experience different levels of suffering, God handcrafts each of our experiences. I suffer differently than you because I need to grow in different ways than you do.

      So when I say that suffering “prepares” us for eternity, I don’t mean that it in any sense takes the place of Christ’s righteousness. Christ’s righteousness is objective, meaning it’s from outside of us. But there is a subjective sense in which we become more and more like Christ throughout our lives. Scripture seems to indicate that God uses suffering to make us like Christ and so prepare us subjectively to experience the glory of eternity.

      Hope this helps.

  • Hi, this is my first time receiving your email and how on time it was. “What Should I Do? Some Great Promises….” I’ve been up since about 4:30 am (08/29) trying to stay encouraged, listening to the Word, reading the Word, praying, crying, wondering trying to stay strong in my faith. I’m remembering that He brought me through before He will begin. In other words, doing what I’m suppose to do and still feel, Father where are you in this situation. You took an ordinary musician like me and brought me into TV four years ago, out of my comfort zone, in a place I never wanted to be and I’m struggling. Thank God for those are encouraged by the Program. I’m too far in it to give up now, I can’t turn back, want too but know I can’t. We need to tell people more about the waiting period. Yes, you will be out here and don’t know which way to go, the checks bouncing, the old house cracking, the family has problems, yet you still have to Faith-walk with your Faith-On! I know He will never leave me nor forsake me but it does not mean I don’t feel that way. I’m Deborah, 61 years old, TV program is: HAS GOD HEARD FROM YOU TODAY? hmmm…- please visit http://www.hasGODheardfromyoutoday.org to see some TV Testimonies I’ve uploaded. My story is unbelieveable but I’m still here by His Grace and calling on the name of Jesus! I’m trying desperately now to hold on to Galatians 6:9. I don’t know why He chose me to do this, but I’m glad He did. I have no doubt He chose me to do this, but Lord you said you shall supply all my need……where are they? I didn’t ask to do this, I didn’t even want to do this – But, I won’t give up, I do feel like it though. I’m so glad Jesus didn’t give up! Thank you for the reminder of His Promises!!!

  • Stephen, this was not *just* another blog post on suffering. Thank you, brother. What a helpful, encouraging explanation of this light and momentary…

    God is using you…May grace abound.

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