They are words that can be tremendously encouraging or tremendously discouraging. Said at the wrong time or in the wrong spirit they can compound hurt, but said at the right time and in the right spirit they can be a cool drink on a hot day, a soothing balm on a sore wound. They are the words “light and momentary.” As the Apostle suffered physically and spiritually, as he spoke of the outer self wasting away, he proclaimed “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” His suffering was real. It was harmful and hurtful, weighty and lengthy. And yet he told no lie when he said it was just as truly light and momentary.
When I was a child I would sometimes help my dad, a landscaper, on his job sites. He would do the planting while I would bring him the materials. I’d have to load the wheelbarrow with flats of plants or heaps of soil and do my best to lug it over to him. “You can do it,” he would say. “It’s not that far and it’s not that heavy.” And in a sense he was right—it wasn’t that far and it wasn’t that heavy. But he was looking at it from the perspective of a man while I was looking at it from the perspective of a boy. He was grown and strong while I was small and weak. Now that I’m an adult I would agree that it’s an easy load and a short haul. But back then it took everything I had.
And I think this helps us get at what Paul is saying. Sorrow truly is heavy and hard in the moment. It calls for strength and endurance, fortitude and perseverance. It does us no good to minimize our pain or downplay our suffering. We need not suffer with dry eyes and impassive hearts. We are Christians, not Stoics. We are followers of a Savior who stood outside the tomb of his friend and wept, a Savior who knows what it is to have his heart broken. Tears are so sacred, so precious that God promises that not one goes unseen and unnoticed.
Yet even as our suffering is excruciating it is also light and even while it feels endless it is also momentary. To understand this we must engage our faith and move forward in time—forward beyond time. Through faith we can transport ourselves to the future and see the glories of heaven, the endless ages of joy, the completion of divine purposes. And now, from this shifted perspective, we can look back on our suffering. As we look forward from present to future our suffering is heavy and long, but as we look back from future to present it is light and momentary. Faith allows us to see this, to feel this, to believe this.
The deepest sorrow on earth is light in comparison to the smallest pleasure of heaven. It is a feather against an anvil, a grain of sand against a mountain, a drop of water against the mighty Pacific. The longest sorrow on earth is momentary in comparison to the shortest joy in heaven. It is a second against a year, a step against a marathon, a single tick of a clock against an entire age. It’s faith that allows us to see this and faith that allows us to believe it.
We may not judge today’s afflictions light and momentary. And, in fact, there is a very real sense in which they are not. So as we bear these burdens and endure these sorrows, as we feel their pain and cry our tears, we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, not on this day but on that one. And we say, with faith, “I can and will endure this light, momentary affliction as it prepares me for the full weight of glory that will prove far beyond all comparison.”