Grief? Hassle? Irritation? Frustration?
Define ‘trouble’ as any sort of problem, setback, disappointment or pain and ask yourself the above question. Possibly you will only come up with these kinds of answers: sorrow/loss of earnings/loss of confidence/loss of hope in the future. For you might even say that your troubles are dividing you from friends leaving you feeling isolated. Have they driven a wedge in your family? Have they threaten sacred bonds or close connections?
If your answer to all of the above is YES, YES and MORE YES, then 2 Corinthians 4:17 will come as a huge challenge if you are a Christian (and maybe as a surprise if you are not)
17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (New Living Translation)
Will another translation help us out of this seemingly insensitive and crass statement?
Let’s try the ‘Never Infallible Version’
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (NIV)
Not any easier.
How about the New American Bible? Surely the Americans won’t wallow in misery?
17 For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (NAB)
Right. So that’s really what it says.
Troubles produce for us a ‘glory’ that will long outlast the troubles themselves. Is this just ‘pie in the sky when you die’ that’s meant to make the misery of the present moment bearable? Or is it more than that?
Firstly what does Paul, the author of this text, mean by ‘troubles’? Well he is wonderfully unspecific- so basically anything that makes us miserable counts. In his day though, he was talking about the possibility of being thrown to the lions or set alight as a human garden torch for an empress garden party both consequences for being a Christian at that time for some people. I would hardly call these things “light and momentary”.
So what does Paul mean by “glory” and how would that help us? For glory, think ‘shine’, think ‘honour’ (like being given an OBE), think unparalleled joy in success (like being awarded a gold medal after years of hard work, that moment when you stand on the rostrum and here your national anthem played, bathed in the sweat of your efforts but also awash with recognition and relief.
And we are told that this glory will last forever. Much much longer than whatever it is that bothers us now.
This is an amazing, and challenging thought but what I’m interested in is the process not so much the hazy but glorious destination.
I want to know HOW? How do these troubles produce for us that glory? And is that glory only to do with some distant point in the future because if it is it doesn’t feel terribly helpful to me now.
I think the answer to the first question-how do these troubles produce for us that glory-is that they only produce anything good for us when we choose to embrace them, accept them and grow through the experience of living with them.
When we fight them, get mad about them, feel ‘hard done by’ because of them and generally allow them to get under our skin in a bad way, they don’t do us any good.
My advice is: never waste a problem.
Instead embrace it, accept it and ask yourself ‘how can this be a gift to me?’ It may not be a gift I was looking for it may not be something that I desired but ‘it is what it is’, and only when I choose to embrace and accept it can I grow as a human being through this experience. It might quite rightly take you a long time to come to such a place of acceptance, I’m not expecting you to be ludicrously happy if something tragic happens to you but I am saying that eventually, the only way forward out of any hole, no matter how dark in up an escape ladder marked ‘acceptance’.
I can grow in faith through troubles. In fact when I look back on my own life, the most troubled times are the times when I have grown the most. So this means that it’s not all about pie in the sky when you die, it’s about transformation right now. It’s about growing up in faith right now.
I acknowledge that some troubles are so bad that we don’t feel ourselves to be anywhere near capable of asking any of those above questions such as “how can I grow as a human being through this experience?” at least not for a long time but one thing that helps is to have cultivated a helpful mindset towards pain, trouble and setbacks DURING GOOD TIMES in our lives.
“Pain is inevitable. Misery is optional” it might be true but don’t you dare say that to someone just given a terminal diagnosis.
Pain is inevitable and having faith and confidence in God even through pain does not spare us from feeling miserable or feeling sorry for ourselves (read the Psalms!)
Too many of us believe this equation: faith+ confidence= a cheery upbeat outlook. I assure you it’s perfectly possible to be a faithful confident misery guts- look at Jeremiah, he wrote the book called Lamentations.
It will probably take a lifetime of growing up in faith but what we are trying to cultivate is a mindset that says:
‘God is good, God can be trusted, I will trust God and God will bring good things out of whatever I experience’ .When we can do this we will be much better placed to weather the storm of troubles that are an inevitable part of life.
Cultivating that mindset in good times and in bad is like pegging the rudder of your little boat so you don’t go off course; it’s like setting the sail; it’s like finding a true ‘north’ on a compass and not being led down blind alleys.
If we can view the setbacks and problems of our lives through that mindset then we will not be tempted to think the kind of things we so often think of when life goes wrong: “God doesn’t like me, God ignores my prayers/is out to get me, I deserve this because I’m rubbish or I’ve made rubbish decisions”. This negative mindset simply allows us to tell a bad story to ourselves about the reasons for our problems and this bad story only further undermines our trust and leaves us angry or frustrated or simply feeling hopeless. With a reaction like that it’s hardly surprising that the only things produced by our troubles is the long list of negative outcomes at the start of this post.
Henry James said: “the definition of a writer is someone who never wastes an experience”. Perhaps the definition of a growing Christian is someone who never wastes a problem.