compendium, n.: “an abridgement or condensation of a larger work or treatise, giving the sense and substance, within smaller compass”; “an epitome, a summary, a brief” (Oxford English Dictionary)
This is by no means a definitive nor exhaustive collection of thoughts on suffering. In fact, it’s not a collection about suffering at all–rather, it’s a compendium for suffering. In installments, I hope to establish a large summary of thoughts to help me get through suffering. And if you, along the way, find yourself encouraged to whatever degree by what you find in this compendium, then I will be satisfied and God will be glorified that His Word and His people have done what they are supposed to do: support His redeemed in suffering and point them to the hope that rests within Him.
It is critical–utterly critical–that we amass such a collection of thoughts and convictions before suffering begins. We need to know what our rock is and where it is before the storm hits, before the wind buffets us and the rain pours into our eyes, before the cold numbs our hands and feet and minds, making it nigh impossible to get our bearings and all too easy to abandon truth and hope. The more we remind ourselves during the times of relative ease of Scripture’s truths about suffering, the more assured we will be when suffering comes. We will have verses, quotes, songs to remind us what we need to know.
And it is again critical that in times of suffering, we not lean back on the convictions that we built so long ago when the harvest was full and the famine unseen. We need to preach verses to ourselves, remind ourselves without ceasing the hope that Scripture promises to those who suffer. The darkness is heavy and deep and oppressive, and the light is necessary to ward it away. In a quotes that resonates most deeply with my own soul, John Piper acknowledges (in a chapter on Scripture!), “[We are] much aware that every day with Jesus is not ‘sweeter than the day before.’ Some days with Jesus our disposition is sour. Some days with Jesus, we are so sad we feel our heart will break open. Some days with Jesus, we are so depressed and discouraged that between the garage and the house we just want to sit down on the grass and cry” (Desiring God 143). Then he notes this promise: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7).
Or again, from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what that means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. . . . Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. . . . Now [the psalmist’s] treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks” (qtd. in Future Grace 304-305). That last quotation by the psalmist is from one of my favorite verses to turn to in suffering, Psalm 42:11. It is critical that we address ourselves when we suffer, in order that our flesh might not weigh us down with grief and agony. With that in mind, I begin this compendium for suffering with two verses:
16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16-18)
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
This we know: there is glory coming–glory beyond what we can imagine at this moment. It will outweigh all our suffering. In comparison, our affliction is “light” and “momentary”: compared to the “weight” of glory that is “beyond all comparison,” we know that this affliction cannot be worth much at all. If we must endure this affliction, endure it we shall, for we know the result and reward will be utterly worth it. And our affliction is “momentary,” even if it be ended only by death–then we shall have an eternity of glory to behold as we commune sinlessly with our infinitely glorious God. And so I preach this to myself: “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us!” This truth does not remove the suffering, but pronounces echoes of joy in my soul that I cling to when the bell of rejoicing I can hear not.