I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
The world has its glories; as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, there is a goodness “deep down things” that no evil can obscure, and yet the world is full of pain, to say nothing of the difficulties and inconveniences of life that must be borne. And it is among the illusions of modernity that this condition is the result of ignorance that can be overcome by education and science. And like most really great errors, there is some truth in this. Thought can still lead to insights that help heal the heart. Medical science can meliorate pain and even lengthen life. Labor-saving devices sometimes do save labor. There are a thousand technical helps that make life easier.
But while there is evil in the world there will be pain. Animals endure it; we rational sons of Adam may suffer it, which means that accepting of evil that transforms it into love, for which the cross of Christ is the consummate reality, a reality in which Christians share. It was Victor Frankel, the famous psychologist who wrote “Every man’s suffering is his own and no one has a right to take it from him.” Along with such miracles as restraint, the bearing of evil is the uniquely human action. One will think of rope and fire, but most of the suffering we are called to bear is not of the dramatic kind that comes to mind when we think of the English martyrs being hung by chains so that their toes barely grazed the ground, or, ultimately, when we think of the cross of Christ. It may be that someone will be called to die for Christ in Kenya today, but this will not be our vocation. Our suffering will more probably be found in ordinary bending of the human will toward virtue that is properly called discipline, which discipline is rooted in duty and which is caused because in all its goodness nature and human nature are warped out of the shape which goodness requires and must be woven back into virtue and holiness at the cost of discipline, or suffering borne. It is not a mistake that toast often falls jelly- side down or that consistent commitment to boring tasks require discipline or that the human soul, unwatched, unguarded, left to itself, devoid of relationship to Christ in the Holy Spirit, will go wrong, so that vigilance is a condition of the good life. The whole point of the noble doctrine of the fall or rebellion of man is not simply that this condition of fatal imperfection exists but that we are ourselves endemically its cause; we have met the enemy and he is us. Jordan Peterson’s advice to begin the day by making the bed may seem jejune, but it is a first step toward a disciplined life that might on another day be able to oppose a greater evil than domestic disorder.
If one looks around us at the world outside or looks inward to our own hearts what can be seen is the rejection of suffering, not only in the dramatic form represented by the cross, which is in a sense understandable, but in the commonplace sense of patience in the face of the necessity that enables us to undergo and welcome discipline. This meets us as children in the cultural misconception that learning should always be fun, which it often is, but only as the result of hard work. It meets us later in the wearing attempt to overcome some sin or vice, which must be defeated not only once but day by day. It meets us in the eternal temptation to sloth, which, modernity to the contrary, is a sin.
Why do we do this? We might do this, accept moral challenges, seek to overcome difficulties rather than yielding to them, pursue perfection that we know will in this life elude us? In the first instance we bear up under suffering because, as the Stoics tell us, it is the human thing to do. But Saint Paul, knowing human nature, convinced that the capacity to bear suffering, while noble in itself, is not the fulfillment of human life, tells us that it is for the sake of the glory that will be revealed for us or in us that we willingly suffer in and with Christ. For we look forward to a new creation in which the tears caused by things borne for Christ and neighbor will be wiped from our eyes by Emmanuel, “God Himself will be with us,” and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more neither mourning, nor crying , nor pain. For the former things have passed away (Revelation 21: 3-4).
We are assured by the revealed words of our religion that in the end that world of glory is prepared for those who love the Lord enough to bear his discipline in this life, which means accepting his perfecting love for us. That love is not, as many are now likely to believe, a sentiment founded in affect, although charity does have its affective rewards, but is an engagement with God the Holy Spirit through which our souls are formed, often painfully, to the holiness that will enable us to see God. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:6). He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24); that to enter eternal life we must give up our lives. As Saint Thomas More reminded his children, God does not take us to heaven on a feather bed. The lives of none of the saints were marked by the pain-free, pleasure-filled existence we imagine for ourselves in moments of weakness and unreality. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
For in this world glory lies on the other side of suffering, When Paul wrote the words: “If we suffer with him we shall reign with him” (II Timothy 2:12) he may have had in mind the threat posed by the Roman authorities to Christians who would not sacrifice to the gods of the state. But even then, nearer to the condition of typical Christians was the note struck by the prophet John when in the reign of Domitian he wrote: “I John share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance” (Revelation 1:9). It is that patient endurance that makes us fit to see God, fit for the glory that will be revealed in us. For bearing the evils of this world is not without reward. We will leave behind the world in which things tend to go wrong for the world of glory at whose center is Christ, Lord of Creation, King of Angels, and every truly good thing that has ever existed. Meanwhile the flawed beauty of creation, its scarred goodness, is the imperfect mirror through which we see the glory that will be revealed.
Dr. Patrick’s book The Making of the Christian Mind, Volume I
is available at Amazon or from St. Augustine Press, South Bend, IN