What A Rainy Rocky Run Taught Me About Redemption
Yesterday morning, as I try to do two or three times each week, I headed out for a jog to the river and back, with the intention of arriving at the Y just as it opened at 6, lifting weights for about 20 minutes, and then jogging home. As I left the house, I noticed it was darker than usual, but thought nothing more of it. But within minutes, it started raining, and minutes after that it started pouring.
By then, I was too far from home to turn around and too wet to think of ending up at the Y afterwards. So I decided to lengthen my run, seeing that I could go longer and still get home earlier than usual since I was skipping the lifting. Instead of running to the river, along the river trail, and back towards West Philadelphia, I went further into Center City, ran north to the Parkway, and the northwest to the Art Museum. Running the “Rocky” steps in the pouring rain was highly satisfying.
It took me several rounds of stuffing newspaper into my sneakers when I got home before they dried out, and my wife gave me the stink-eye a bunch of times for various puddles of rainwater throughout the house. But running in the rain is invigorating.
And instructive as well. Earlier that morning I had read from the 4th chapter of Paul’s 2nd letter to the church in Corinth. For many Christians, it is a well-known passage, and I had particularly savored verse 17: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”
Paul spends much of this chapter, and much of his whole letter, on this theme of suffering having a purpose. But this verse really cuts to the quick. Not only can we bear present suffering because of the promise of future glory, but somehow the present suffering helps produce the future glory.
In other words, it is one thing to tell yourself that while now sucks, it isn’t forever and one day things will be awesome. It is an entirely different thing to tell yourself that what sucks now is, in some strange way, directly producing what will be awesome later.
If I see any positive attitude towards suffering in myself and my fellow Christians, it is almost always the former: “I will bear this current ordeal because it is temporary and what awaits me is great and lasting.” I very rarely see the latter: “This current ordeal is necessary because it produces what is great and lasting.”
In other words, many of us treat hardship as undesirable – “I suppose I have to go through this, but if I had my druthers I’d rather avoid it.” This is an entirely wrong view of trials. The great saints through the years knew better, and said things like “This is hard . . . but this is God’s will for me. If I somehow could make it go away, I wouldn’t, because that would be less than whatever great thing God has for me through this.”
Which brings me back to my rainy “Rocky Run.” Rain is not without its downsides. It floods basements, cancels picnics, and twice the big puddles it made almost caused me to sprain my ankle. But it is temporary, and when it is over, the whole place feels cooler and fresher. And, the good of rain isn’t just when it’s over. Rain itself, of course, serves a vital purpose, watering our gardens and replenishing our reservoirs.
There is, of course, a far better and more relevant example of God blessing us not just in spite of suffering but through the suffering itself. In the redemption story, the suffering of Jesus is not an allegory of temporary anguish followed by eternal glory. The temporary anguish itself produced the eternal glory, for it was the necessary exchange between the condemnation due us sinful men and the exaltation due a sinless Son.
Paul’s words about “momentary, light affliction producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” are fulfilled in the extreme in the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In a very real sense, every affliction we encounter is, relatively speaking, momentary and light compared to what Jesus endured. And, in a very real sense, every affliction we encounter is an opportunity to be connected to His momentary, light affliction, to be reminded that as His affliction produced an eternal weight of glory, so will ours.
Whether it is a heavy downpour or something far more painful, sapping, and dark, your affliction need not be the end of your story. And it need not be a purposeless thing worth only gutting through in order to get to the other side. There is a way for it to have a purpose, for it to produce something glorious. God did it with His own Son, and He can do it with you, His child, as well.