In his second letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul encouraged the believers there with these words: “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. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).
These words have comforted Christians ever since they were first read in Corinth. We take comfort in the hope of eternal glory, but in times of struggle, this passage appears at odds with our current experience. Our troubles often do not feel light or momentary and it may seem as though Paul and other Christians who use these words attempt to downplay our experience. Paul, though, is not trying to diminish the severity of our troubles, for he knew trouble and sorrow well. Rather, he provides a perspective that can dramatically transform us in the midst of struggle.
Our current struggles, however terrible or devastating, will not last forever and do not compare with the experience of eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven. Hope is found in this contrast between momentary struggles and eternity.
While it is important to draw hope from promises of eternal life, eternal joy, and eternal comfort, it is equally important not to defer our hope until eternity. While we wait for the fulfillment of our salvation, the fulfillment of our hope, we must remember that God has given us this hope so that we can live with joy now. Hope deferred will never develop joy in our lives now.
When we think of eternal life, we often envision going to heaven. Our hope for eternal life can easily become a hope that depends on escape. The promise of the Bible is not that we will be rescued from this Earth, but rather that we can have hope and joy now, in the midst of struggle and pain. Struggle and pain will not last forever.
As we await the arrival of the Son of God this Advent season, let’s remember that Jesus came to give us life, to give us joy, and to give us hope now and forever.