For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. –2 Corinthians 4:17-18
There’s no doubt about it: God tests us mighty hard sometimes. Hard enough to make us wonder what it’s all about. Maybe even hard enough to make us question our faith, and tempt us to abandon it.
We do prayer requests on this blog, so we know that many of us struggle under burdens very hard to carry. And that’s putting it mildly.
But what St. Paul is saying here is not that these burdens are light, not that they don’t matter, not that our pain isn’t real. This is a man who, during his ministry, was stoned and left for dead, beaten several times, shipwrecked, and on top of all that, had to deal with churches whose congregations sometimes rebelled against him and rejected him.
So when he calls it “light affliction,” no small share of which he had himself, he means “light” by comparison with “an eternal weight of glory.” This is the knowledge that sustained him in his own afflictions. It would be good for us if we had that knowledge, too–and believe me, I’m not saying that I do.
Why does God test us so hard?
I think of how a Japanese sword is made. The swordsmith takes chips of iron and heats it and refines it into steel, and then, as it begins to acquire the shape of a blade, he heats it again and again, and bends it and folds it and hammers it, over and over again: heat red-hot, bend and fold, and hammer. If the metal had feelings, it would surely feel that! But the end result is a strong and supple sword with a razor-sharp edge, a prize sword that will last for hundreds of years.
Bend and fold, hammer. Bend and fold, hammer. I think this must be what God does to us. It hurts, it tempts us to despair: because, unlike Him, we can’t see the end product. It is one of those things that Paul called “the things which are not seen,” and which are… eternal.
We can only endure this by faith: “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). For we are headed for eternal life, and glory.
A thing hard to remember, and hard to believe; but we have to remember it, and we must believe it. Probably the hardest lesson in all of Christianity.
And therefore central to our faith.