God’s gifts in suffering (8) Suffering teaches us to number our days

You can read the previous posts in this series here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6 and part 7.

flickr: Robert Couse-Baker

All our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away…
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90:9-10, 12)

When you’re young, life seems long and full of promise. A young woman told me she hopes Jesus doesn’t come back till she’s experienced career, marriage, children. I remember thinking the same when I was eighteen. Life stretched ahead, and I wanted to see and do it all. Can you recall it? Standing at the brink, ready to plunge in?

As you get older, life sometimes seems very sharp and short. Family members become ill. Friends get divorced. Parents age. We go to more funerals. We grow weary of the long battle with sin. On the bad days, when another burden is added, we wonder if we can bear any more. The years that once seemed endless now speed past, and they are often full of pain.

Who is to say that we do not now see things more clearly? Like a flower of the field, we flourish and are quickly gone (Psalm 103:15-16). Life is vanity; it passes like a shadow; generations comes and go, and we are forgotten (Ecc 1:1-4; 6:12). Our days are filled with toil and trouble; they are soon ended, and we fly away (Psalm 90:10).

One of the great blessings of suffering – though perhaps not the most welcome – is that we come to see this more clearly. We’d rather be comfortable in this world, but suffering, mercifully, doesn’t allow it. We share this world’s groaning, and realize what has been clear to most people throughout history. Our hearts as well as our heads now know the truth: in the light of eternity, this life is a blip and a shadow.

This whispers to us of another truth: we are not made for this world. If we were, CS Lewis asked, would we not feel at home?1 Yet we don’t, except perhaps on the most sunshiny days, and even then we are haunted by incompleteness. Always, there is the longing for something more. We feel this acutely, for God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11).

Suffering fuels this longing. It takes us by the hand and says, “Look! There is something better!”. We hold so tightly to this world, but suffering loosens our grip. It reminds us that we’d better not store our treasures here, for they can and will be taken from us. It weans us from this life, and sets our hope on the life to come. And this hope will not disappoint us (Rom 5:5). We will open our eyes on a new creation. The morning is coming.

Have you seen it? Can you picture it? There it is: a golden city, so bright it would hurt your eyes if they, like the rest of your body, weren’t strong and new (Phil 3:21). In the heart of this city, God and the Lamb – the one we love, the one who died for us – sit on the throne. A river runs from the throne, its waters giving life. And look! There’s the tree of life, heavy with new fruit each month, its leaves healing hurts (Rev 22:1-5). Once more, God walks with us in the cool of the day; and this time we have no need to hide (Gen 3:8). Seeing him with open faces, we are at last like him (1 Cor 13:12; 1 John 3:2). Here there is no hint of sorrow, no mark of pain:

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, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev 21:3-4).

It’s better than we knew it could be. We are home.

I read the words, “There will be no more tears…”, and tears run down my face. For this is our waiting time, our season of groaning, our period of exile (Rom 8:18-27; Phil 3:20; 1 Pet 2:11). We long for the day of Christ’s appearing (2 Tim 4:8 NIV). We yearn for our true country (Heb 11:16). We seek the things that are above (Col 3:1-4).

The other day, I was standing at the kitchen bench, cutting vegetables, when I noticed my hands were trembling. It was one of those times when the weight of a long struggle presses down, and you know your strength is not enough to carry you. In that moment, as he has so often before, the Spirit brought these verses to mind:

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. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

If there’s one thing suffering has taught me, it’s that we don’t really belong here. It has taught me to fix my eyes on the unseen. It has taught me to long and live for our true home.

Come, Lord Jesus. (Rev 22:20)

  1. “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

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