As a pastor and theologian, I’ve had to think about a lot of hard questions over the years. Truth be told, however, the most difficult problem I’ve faced is the problem of suffering. We all face suffering in some way, and we all know people who’ve lived such painful lives that we wonder how they can go on.
We don’t ever want to downplay or deny the pain that suffering brings. Christianity isn’t a system of Stoic denial wherein we pretend that everything is OK even when we are enduring the worst things. At the same time, we dare not forget the Christian hope that one day suffering will be gone forever. When we deal with suffering, we tend to have our gaze completely locked on the present, but the Christian answer to suffering, while making it incumbent upon us to alleviate present suffering as much as we are able, looks beyond the present to the future.
The very essence of secularism is the thesis that the hic et nunc, the here and now, is all there is. There is no realm of the eternal. But as Christians, we are called to consider the present in light of the eternal. This is what Jesus preached again and again. What does it profit a man if in this time and in this place he gains the whole world, but he loses his own soul (Luke 9:25)?
Scripture says that the end defines the significance of the beginning (Eccl. 7:8). God alone knows the end from the beginning comprehensively, but in His Word, He gives us a glimpse of the end toward which we are moving. And if we can focus our attention on the end and not merely on the now and the pain we experience here, we can begin to understand our pain in the right perspective.
In unfolding the new heaven and the new earth, Revelation 21–22 gives us one of the clearest glimpses of the future. Let me touch on a few of the highlights.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (21:3–4). When I was a little boy, life was tough. There was a boy in our community who was much bigger than I was, and he was a bully. Sometimes he would beat me up, and I would run home crying. And my mother would be in the kitchen, and she’d have her apron on, and she’d say, “Come here.” I’d come in, and then she’d lean over and wipe away my tears—one of the most tender forms of communication—with the edge of her apron. When my mother wiped away my tears, I was truly comforted, and I was encouraged to go back into the battle. But I’d go back out, and sooner or later I’d get hurt again, and I would cry again, and my mother would have to wipe my tears away again. But when God wipes away our tears, they will never flow again for all eternity. (Unless, of course, they are tears of joy.)
That’s the eternal perspective. That’s the end from the beginning. Right now we live in the valley of tears, but that situation is not permanent because God will wipe away our tears.
John also says, “Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying” (v. 4). Death, sorrow, crying, pain—these all belong to the former things that will pass away. I can imagine having conversations with you in the new Jerusalem, and you’ll say, “Remember back then when we used to worry about the problem of suffering?” And I’ll say, “I hardly remember what that was.”
Then, in verse 22, we read about something else that will be missing. Not only will there be no sorrow or death, but there will be no temple in the new Jerusalem of the new heaven and earth. But how can the new Jerusalem be the holy city without a temple? Well, John means that there will be no temple building. There will be another kind of temple, John says—“the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” The most beautiful earthly sanctuary in this world will be passé in the new Jerusalem because we’ll be in the presence of God and of the Lamb.
“No longer will there be anything accursed” (22:3). You know that song “Joy to the World”? I love the line in the song that ends with “far as the curse is found.” How far is that? In this present darkness, the curse extends to the end of the earth— to our lives, to our labors, to our businesses, to our relationships. All suffer under the pangs of the curse of a fallen world. That’s why there’s a cosmic yearning, where all of creation groans together waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God, waiting for that moment when the curse is removed (Rom. 8:19). There won’t be any weeds or any tares in the new Jerusalem. The earth won’t resist our plows because the curse won’t be found. “But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him” (Rev. 22:3).
And then we get the highest hope, the most incredible promise in the New Testament—we will see God’s face (v. 4). All of our lives we can come close to the Lord, we can sense His presence, and we can talk with Him, but we cannot see His face. But if we persevere through the pain and the suffering of this present world, the vision of God waits for us on the other side. Can you imagine it? Can you imagine looking into the unveiled glory of God for one second? It will make every pain I’ve ever experienced in this world worth it to see that.
“These words are trustworthy and true” (v. 6)—not salve or opium to dull our present pain but the truth of Almighty God, who made us, who knows us, who by the suffering of His Son has redeemed His people. He has now guaranteed that if we are in Christ by faith alone, we are bound for glory, and nothing can derail that train. So these former things that cause us so much grief will pass away, and He will make all things new.
This article originally appeared here.