A contradiction in words.

Does not the one exclude the other? Misery and joy are not the one and the same. A man in the midst of misery knows of no joy and we do better not to ask him, when he finds himself in the midst of all kinds of trouble, whether he enjoys his condition. Or is it wise to ask that same man if he cannot conceive of the idea, that after his misery he may expect days of joy?

The world will not be comforted with such thoughts. In our day we find trouble on every side. Trouble is the right word for every sphere of life and in every country on the face of the globe. It makes no difference anymore where a man lives anymore, nor what the form of government might be, we live in a troubled world.

We conceived of the idea that the world would finally become a safe place to dwell in. Twenty years ago it was the religion of the world to make it safe for democracy. And it takes all sorts of idealists to make people believe that the world had not failed in its purpose. Besides, instead of reaching the prophesied goal, is the world not much further away from peace than ever before?

The Church of Jesus Christ does not expect a world without struggle and misery. To her it is known that sin is the cause of all the ailments of the human race. She cannot remedy and better this world. The leaders of the Church should never make it their business to preach about a better world nor should they be ashamed to confess that this present world with all its changes is destined for destruction. The facts are that a so-called better world does not mean anything to the Christian and even the world at its best is not the world he expects. To the Church is said that a better world is awaiting her, but this world is the new creation when time shall be no more, the world without sin and corruption.

In this letter to the Corinthians, we have an opportunity to take a look into the life of the Apostle Paul. And that from the point of view of his suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ. Turn for a moment to the eleventh chapter where we find the following: “(I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice suffered I shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”

Indeed a gruesome picture of the suffering seemingly without measure in a world most beautiful at that time. In that beautiful world however, the Apostle and the congregation, both experienced the suffering for Christ’s sake. Church and world cannot and will not live peaceably together. There is only one way out to have peace with the world and that way is to be like her. When the Church understands her high calling, the suffering will be present. And between the present suffering and the future glory, Paul draws a comparison and he does that in such a way, that the suffering of the present time is subservient to the future glory.

When speaking of affliction we must never place the suffering of the world on the same level with that of which the Apostle speaks. How true it is that also the world knows about suffering. Mankind, especially today, knows it better than ever before. Listen to your radio and three fourths of every news broadcast is concerned about suffering. Or look round about you and pessimism and melancholy is written on every face. And is it not true that every home bears its own cross? And every one of the children of man lives a life characterized as being much more of a burden than of pleasure. That is the reason why poets and philosophers point out the uselessness of it all, most of life itself. That is the true picture of the whole race. People may be satisfied with a thing for a while, but like little children they will throw their toys away, sooner or later.

Yet the general suffering of mankind is not meant here. In fact, even suffering is not general. Paul speaks here, as elsewhere, about our suffering and our affliction. And that our is the congregation and the Apostle. Therefore, it is a peculiar suffering—the suffering and affliction as gifts of grace. The suffering for Christ and for God’s sake. It is the affliction as the result of the testimony of the child of God, for his walking in the ways of the Lord. Because he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, therefore the world persecutes him. According to the Apostle they have a treasure that the excellency of the power of God may be revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. They are troubled on every side and perplexed.

From this point of view the child of God passes through affliction. He received the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. In his life that glory radiates in the midst of darkness. His light is seen, he speaks of that light, his ways are directed by that light. He speaks because he always believes and in harmony with the measure of his testimony, affliction is added unto him. He hates darkness and rejoices in the light. And darkness hates him, the world must have none of it because the hatred is mutual. He is dead to the world and the world seeks to destroy him and make life impossible. The suffering for Christ’s sake is the reason for this peculiar suffering.

Such is the picture of the Church as we find it in Scripture. Enoch and Noah, Abraham and the Patriarchs, Israel and the saints of the New Dispensation experienced that one affliction. Every man and all things are against them. Is it wonder that Asaph became angry?

Still more. Even our own flesh and blood, the outward man must perish, because he is a hindrance to us. What the outward man consists of? First of all, our flesh and blood. Our earthly existence (apart from sin). All our earthly relations, the mode of existence our particular place on earth. Besides, in that flesh and blood, sin operates, holding back and trying to subdue the new inner man. The old blood, sin operates, holding back and trying to subdue the new inner man. The old man desires to live the life of the earth, to rejoice in the things visible and tangible. We live in a world that speaks loudly to us. It satisfies our eyes and fleshly desires and it is instrumental to seek the things that are below. There is harmony between that enticing world and our sinful nature. The two agree perfectly. Besides, the wicked one will never be at rest when it pertains to the congregation of the living God. He will in manifold ways shoot his fiery darts. Especially in the Church he finds his field of destructive labors. He is the arch-enemy of the truth of the Word of God. And thus the Christian is beset with many afflictions.

How paradoxical to hear the Apostle say that this affliction is light. What does he mean? Is it his purpose to teach us that we must conceive of it as being light, or take the stand, that we can rise above it? The stoics of old taught their fellowmen not to be influenced by suffering, but like man to face it and by sheer willpower to overcome pain and affliction. Take a cold attitude over against it and be men. Even today we meet the same kind of people who teach that pain and affliction are imaginary things. All this foolishness does not help in the least. The Lord sends pain and affliction that we should feel them and turn to Him and to His Word with it.

Does the Apostle perhaps mean this; He compares the suffering of the present time with the future glory? The glory is eternal and the suffering is only for a moment. We suffer at the most forty or sixty years, but after all what does that amount to if we consider it in the light of eternity? And is it not true that we often speak about suffering in that manner? And it is at the same time also true when speaking of it in that way, that we are not willing to suffer, but we accept this peculiar suffering as a necessary evil. Our reasoning is, as to the idea as follows: We place on the one side of the balance the affliction and on the other side the glory to come. And of course, the glory wins it by far. Our conclusion is ‘Let us suffer for a while, presently the glory shall be ours.’ If we could possibly be the judge in this matter we would see to it that the suffering disappeared, now however, we know we cannot escape it, hence, let us use a little ‘spiritual’ arithmetic and figure it out in such a way, that after all we are not on the losing side. Consequently, if this is the case we do not want to suffer. Neither are we in the way of the Lord when we actually make an evil of it that must be dealt with. And there is no positive fruit connected with taking such a view of the suffering for God’s sake. Yes, but it makes us pray! What kind of prayers are heard in such cases? The prayer that the Lord may soon take the pain and suffering from us. Prayers that are not prayers and that result not in the peace necessary to carry the cross sent to us. Don’t let us be fooled by our own sinful heart and sinful desires. If there is anything we must learn to know more and more it is that corrupt heart and that corrupt mind. Looking at ourselves in the light of the Word is it not true that in the things that should be most dear to us, we often fool ourselves? Only the Word can help us to direct our ways.

The Apostle not only says that the light affliction is but for a moment, but he adds that it worketh for us. . . .

Is it possible that affliction works something good? Not, of course, if taken by itself. And especially if we grasp the meaning of the word. This word affliction means to be beset on every side, strangled so that death is the inevitable end. So that it is a tribute that ends when it takes a complete hold of us, till we are no more. And that in itself can never be made light of. No, but the appraisal must be found in something else. Not in the affliction as such, neither in its short duration, because in both cases there is no positive fruit to be expected. But in the relation in which they stand to one another we find the explanation. Affliction and glory are both mentioned, and not simply compared, as cause and result. The one is necessary in connection with the other.

The affliction is necessary to reach the glory. The new man in Christ Jesus must be renewed from day to day. And that daily renewal is at the same time a further growth. Negatively speaking, the life of the new man is death to the other. The way of affliction is the way of the breaking of the earthly tabernacle. In that way alone the heavenly home can be reached and by the way of that process the new man becomes more and more complete to inhabit that heavenly home.

Could not God then give us the glory without the affliction? I am always afraid of such a question, because not what God could do, but what He did concerning us. It will also lead away from the Word when we take the position that after all it meant not so much to God to do the one or the other thing. God determined exactly that way. That is therefore the object of our study. He decided that the way to glory is by and through the way of suffering. Hard to understand, someone may say, why it should be that way—the way of suffering. Well, first of all He decides for us and that settles it. But in the second place, He desired to let us see the beauty of His glory on the dark background of the affliction. That He did for our sakes. He decides in that light and in that same manner all things. The terrible cross of His Only Begotten Son, His death and suffering, that sinful world and all the wicked, even the devil Himself serve that purpose. In one word, the Lord God planned according to His determined council all things in such a way that when this plan is executed in time, we may see it and praise His Name for it.

So it is with our light afflictions. No, not so, that it simply brings us home. That will be the final result. But also for this life it is significant to know that the suffering of the present breaks down the earthly tabernacle and sanctifies in such a way that it prepares us for that eternal glory. We will then live the life of heaven, here in principle and understand the ways of the Lord. And we will also understand the affliction and know why the enemies are sent to us to persecute the Church. And our will becomes one with the will of our heavenly Father. Thy way, O Lord, is good and now let Thy way be my way. That is after all the true spiritual experience in the midst of the affliction and it will make that affliction light indeed. Thus and thus alone can the inner man be made glorious and finally be glorified. There is no other way.

Is that the actual condition in the life of the Christian always, you ask? So that we can at any time make that confession? No, it is not the question whether or not we know this to be true as a part of our doctrine. Dogmatically we are not in doubt and know these things to be true. But, although the intellectual knowledge is necessary, does it also mean that we derive comfort from this fact? The Apostle gives us the answer when, he says, ‘While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.’ First of all, by way of antithesis, the Apostle does not focus his eye upon the things visible as the end of it all. No, these things have no purpose in themselves. The things visible and tangible and perceptible belong to that which soon shall disappear. They slip away from us, because they are but for a moment. The whole world and the things thereof pass away and we with them. That is the end of the things which we see. Your work and labors, your relations and all that is connected with them. Your name and money, your wealth and your home, yea, you yourselves shall not remain here forever. If that is all we can boast of, that is, if we have the earth, we have nothing abiding.

But the things unseen, they remain. They are the heavenly things as we have them through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. For His is the power and glory for us.

Thus we understand that the affliction is light. The closer look by faith at the things here below, that much more they become insignificant and also subservient to the things that are above, those that shall remain.

There is another world made ready for me. God conceived of it in His eternal counsel—the heavenly-spiritual world. It is true, we do not see it as yet, but it exists, it is there in the eternal conception of my God, and it shall in the absolute sense of the word be fully realized and revealed.

And the affliction worketh. It brings us nearer to it and no one can really hurt us. Also the suffering is one of the means to bring me there. The breaking down of the earthly house of this tabernacle serve that divine purpose in me and for me.

Then the glory. I am partaker of the glory of my Lord in principle now while I look at the things unseen. And as to the future. Then the renewal of the entire inner man shall be completed. While we look now we have peace. And presently the glory unspeakable to the full. To the glory of God Triune, through Jesus Christ our Lord.