In the midst of the pandemic, one of the things that has stood out to me is the fear I’ve observed in many people’ lives. In one sense, fear is a logical reaction to current events—fear of getting sick, fear of dying, fear of the unknown. For Christians, however, we must not forget that our ultimate hope is not in this present world, but in Jesus. Further, the gospel message promises not only eternal life with Christ, but also a new heavens and new earth on which there will be no sin, no decay, and no death. This notion ought to assuage our fears and give us hope.
As we grapple with the current effects of sin, and as we look forward to dwelling in God’s presence in the future, I want to encourage you to meditate upon three concepts related to life in the present world: preparation, resurrection, and transformation.
God uses the pain and suffering of the present world as tools to conform us to His image.Click to tweet
In 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul wrote, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” In this passage, Paul, who was no stranger to misfortune himself (see 2 Cor. 11:22–29), teaches that the pain and suffering of the present world is actually preparing us for future glory. This is a challenging concept to grasp, especially as we experience grief in the fallen world. Yet, we can all look back upon our lives and testify that we have grown the most Christ-like in times of trouble. Such sanctification in the present world is a microcosm of our preparation for life in glory.
When trials come, if we focus upon ourselves, fear will naturally arise. Yet, Scripture teaches that God uses the pain and suffering of the present world as tools to conform us to His image. In reference to the fallen world, pastor Tim Keller writes in his book The Reason for God, “Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.” In other words, present suffering will not only prepare us for a future life in glory, but life in the broken world will in some way enhance the glory of life in God’s presence. Observe that many of Jesus’ parables were about joy over being lost and then found (see Luke 15:1–32).
A defining aspect of Christianity is its teaching about the future bodily resurrection of all believers. Whereas most religions espouse a spiritual afterlife that includes rewards in some type of heavenly paradise, the Christian gospel promises a material afterlife in a resurrected body in a new heavens and a new earth—that is, the current heavens and current earth made new, with sin being vanquished. This is what Keller means in the above citation in writing that sin “is going to come untrue.” Concerning His own death and resurrection, Jesus taught His disciples, “But your sorrow will be turned into joy” (John 16:20; see Psalm 30:11; 126:5–6; Isaiah 25:8; Jeremiah 31:13).
Note, then, that Christians are not promised an overabundance of blessings in heaven such that they will make us forget the suffering and evil of the present world. Rather, the gospel entails all God’s good promises coming true and all sin and evil coming untrue, via the resurrection, as well as the renewal of all things. Observe Paul’s testimony as he writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Paul reaches this conclusion not because future rewards will outweigh present sufferings, but because promised glory will overtake present sufferings.
The coming transformation of all things—including ourselves and the entire created order—will eventually console our grief.Click to tweet
In reference to the new heavens and the new earth, John writes, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (Revelation 21:4–5; see Revelation 7:17). Note this passage seems to be claiming more than simply, “We won’t cry in heaven.” Indeed, the imagery of God Himself wiping away our tears suggests consolation for, as well as the end of, earthly grief. Our transformation into life in God’s presence will not only end our pain, but also—somewhat incredibly—it will both justify and mend it.
Yet, we must bear in mind that, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words, while we may long for the new heavens and the new earth today, we must trust that God is operating on a perfect time schedule. With David we can cry out, “How long O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1). Yet, we can be confident that even if God waits beyond our lifetime to reconcile all things to Himself, we know, as Peter preached, history is moving toward the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). In his book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis observes, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”
The fallen world is a challenging place to live, for as the psalmist wrote, the earth is wearing out like a well-worn garment (see Psalm 102:26). Indeed, as Jesus taught, we ought to expect the world to be full of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes (see Matthew 24:6–7). Yet, we need not grieve as those who have no hope; we need not be afraid. The Christian gospel promises us that present pain and suffering is preparing us for life in God’s presence; we one day will be resurrected to live on a new heavens and new earth; and the coming transformation of all things—including ourselves and the entire created order—will eventually console our grief.
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 Timothy Keller, The Reason of God (New York: Dutton, 2008), 33.
 C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperOne, 1946), 69.