Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
These verses always stick in my head a little. I've always found it difficult to understand what Paul means by our "light and momentary" troubles. Look around, and you'll see a lot of people with big, heavy troubles. Really hard ones. Ones that hurt.
Paul is not flippant. I've read him enough to know that he can be sarcastic to make a point, but I have never seen him take serious things lightly when he is instructing his churches. He experienced enough big, painful troubles himself to know how hard they can be. Later on in this very letter he describes some of what he has experienced in service to the gospel. So he's serious when he calls our difficulties in life "light and momentary." He knows something I don't, because I look askance at that phrase. I don't want to suffer trouble, and I don't want to look at hard troubles and call them light. I want to keep the option to whine about how hard it is, if I have to deal with troubles at all.
In light of my own troubles, I've found comfort in thinking about the temporary nature of difficulties. I need to remind myself of Jesus' promise that we will certainly have problems and suffer pain, but that these things are absolutely limited. After this broken life comes restored life. After Jesus comes back, we will not suffer any more, at all, ever.
If the definite end date for my suffering is the day on which I die, then it nonetheless a definite end. After all, I know that death is not THE END. For the one who trusts in Christ, death is simply a change. Afterwards, life continues, and it is a better life. Paul says here that the things we suffer now are fixing a weight of glory for us in that not-so-far-off future. He suggests there is no real comparison between the two, no matter how these troubles feel to us now. When we get to that point, when we experience the glory that is coming, we will have the proper perspective. We will be able to compare the two things directly, and we will see that the troubles of life were as nothing.
I've never really grasped that, but it helps me to start thinking about how long our changed life is, and how final the end of our troubles must be. It reminds me of newborn babies. A baby begins life in an enclosed, warm, comfortable place where he grows contentedly for a while. Then there is a big, scary earthquake (a mom-quake?) and he gets pitched out into a very different world, one where there is too much light and big weird sounds and it's cold and absolutely everything is new and wrong. He responds exactly as we expect: he cries. He yells his head off. And the people around him don't even seem to care that his entire world just got wrecked. They laugh and cry happy tears and are so excited, the heartless jerks. If he could express himself in a grown-up way, he would give them what-for. He'd demand to know what was going on. He'd probably want to go back.
We do rejoice when a baby is born, because we have a greater perspective than him. We want to hear him cry, because that means he's healthy and strong and has entered a big, beautiful world. We aren't heartless. We just know babies need to get born. Most babies are delivered straight into highly compassionate hands, belonging to people who know exactly what babies need and who set to providing it instantly. It's not long before babies get held and rocked and fed and find their way to settling down. Only minutes, and baby is quiet in his new world.
Minutes. A tiny fraction of his whole life, those first few minutes, in which he yells his head off because he doesn't like what's going on. Such a small part, and all the adults know it. He doesn't, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. He doesn't understand how light and momentary his troubles are, or how much the people around him care, or how hard they work to make sure he is safe and well and healthy and whole.
What if this part of my life is just that short, compared to the whole? What if I flail around and yell sometimes, wondering why God doesn't FIX IT ALREADY, while he's rejoicing at my new, young life, taking the most exquisite care to deliver me safe and whole into the fullness of life and love coming to me? What if comfort is not actually far away, the real experience of being at rest, settled with my Father in a big new awesome world?
Maybe I'm less grown up than I think; maybe I really am that tiny, and maybe I have no idea yet who I will grow into under my Father's care. Maybe someday I will marvel when I look back at the images of the tiny human person I am now, and rejoice at the care my Father gave me, every part of it, including the moments I find heavy and scary now. Maybe that's true. I rather hope it is.