In Suffering, the Unimaginable Is Still True

A friend of mine was diagnosed with a very serious and deadly form of cancer. It looks like it may rob him of some of the best years of his life. In spite of that reality, he told me, “People ask me sometimes when I get to heaven if I think I’ll be able to finally understand why this happened or that happened. But based on how I read what Paul is saying in Romans, I think what I’ll say is, ‘What pain? I can’t even remember it in light of the glory revealed.’”

My friend, through God’s grace, has caught the vision the Apostle Paul describes in Romans, a vision that produces in us a joy that overshadows our present circumstances, that recognizes that all of God’s works are designed to lead to wonder and worship.

This is how Paul puts it in Romans 9: “And what if he did this to make known the riches of his glory on objects of mercy that he prepared beforehand for glory?” (Romans 9:23 CSB)

What if the primary purpose of how God pursued salvation was to make us stand amazed at the glory of his grace, and what if that vision was so compelling and so beautiful that it was worth any price to get there?

What if the best part of heaven was seeing God in his glory? The Bible says that what the angels—who already experience the other joys of heaven—stare at with wonder and can’t get enough of is the love of God expressed to us in the gospel. And one day, we’ll see what they see—and even more because we are recipients of that grace.

What if I told you that deep down that’s what you’ve been yearning for your whole life?

Christian counselor Paul Tripp says that we humans are “glory junkies”: We constantly search for something to adore—some athlete’s skill, someone’s intelligence or artistic ability, someone’s strength of character or superhuman endurance or riches.

We want something to adore and admire, something to be worthy of our ultimate devotion.

God has been trying to show us since we were born that he is that glorious One. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Through the majesty of creation, God shouts at us of his awesome power and beauty.

John Piper says,

Open your eyes! Do you see it? Do you hear it? He shouts at us through the billowing clouds. He shouts through the endless blue breadth of the summer sky. He shouts at us with gold on the horizon in the morning and through the breathtaking expanse of galaxies and stars at night.


Don’t you see it? Don’t you love it? You were made for this. This is why [we] exist: to see that.


In all these things, he is shouting, “I am glorious!”


Everything is pointing to that. This [world] is all husks and ashes. All the glory that we thought was so attractive is pointing there.

The beauties of the world, St. Augustine said, are only like the ring that a bridegroom gives to his fiancé. The ring is beautiful and valuable, and the girl who receives it will undoubtedly find herself staring at its beauty and showing it off to others.

But how tragic if she ever got so enamored with the ring that she forgot the ring-giver. She should never forget that the love and commitment to which the ring points is the real treasure.

In the same way, the beauties of creation—nature, art, romance, food, sport—all point us to the love of God. We should enjoy them, but we should also never forget what they are pointing to.

Developing that kind of vision now is the way to maintain joy in life.

Because, you see, life won’t always be filled with beauty, romance, and excitement. It will also bring us to dark places—to tragedy, heartache, pain, and loss.

In those dark valleys, can we still have joy? According to Paul, we can.

Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

In other words, the glory that is coming is such an all-satisfying, infinitely beautiful, joy-producing reality that even 70 or 80 years of pain will seem as nothing.

To be honest, I find this difficult to conceive. It’s hard to imagine what kind of good and glorious ending can make something like cancer or the loss of a child or a parent leaving seem “as nothing.”

But listen to what Paul says—and what he doesn’t say. Paul doesn’t say that these tragedies are small things. He doesn’t say that your pain is insignificant. He doesn’t say there’s some silver lining behind every dark cloud.

Paul is saying that we can walk the road of tragedy and still arrive at joy. He is saying that what we find so hard to imagine in moments of tragedy—that they will be swept up in glory—is still, in fact, true.

What drives Paul to worship is that—even if just for a brief moment—he’s caught a glimpse of that future which we find so hard to imagine, a future with a God so glorious it makes everything else pale by comparison.

The point of everything God has done is to lead you to that kind of vision—the only vision that leads to lasting joy.