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So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our
inner nature is renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is
preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we
look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be
seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

II Corinthians 4:16-18

My “I Don’t Understand” file is growing! That file is where I mentally set aside the inscrutables of life. Why is there so much suffering and hardship? Why do bad things happen to such good people! I just don’t understand!

The English poet John Keats says something that helps me with the hard things of life I don’t understand. When Keats was dying from tuberculosis at the age of 25, he wrote to his brother and sister his understanding of what was happening to him: “Call the world, if you please, ‘the vale of Soul-making’. Then you will find the purpose of the world.” Keats explained: “Do you not see how necessary a World of pain and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a Soul?” Although people called this life a “vale of tears”, Keats saw it as a “vale of Soul-making”.

Nicholas Wolterstorff is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Yale; his 25 year old son was killed while mountain climbing. Wolterstorff writes about his grief in Lament for A Son, a book in which he picks up on Keats’ “vale of Soul-making”:

In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also character is made. The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making.

There is more going on than we can see in our hardship and pain. God is making souls!

I have sat alongside the bed of dying loved ones and friends, adding to my “I Don’t Understand” file. But I know that God is up to something in what is happening. He’s got His fingerprints on it! I see this in today’s scripture as Paul writes about “slight momentary affliction” that “is preparing us from an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” I would never have thought of Paul’s many sufferings as “slight affliction”. But Paul does in the light of what God is doing with them. Paul sees his suffering as “slight” when compared to the “weight” of glory ahead. That is why Paul can begin today’s scripture with the confident words, “So we do not lose heart.” We do not get discouraged because in this “vale of Soul-making” God is preparing us for glory!

C. S. Lewis writes in his children’s novel The Final Battle about the glory awaiting God’s children. There we see Aslan, the Christ-figure lion, leading the children into glory:

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

I still have my “I Don’t Understand” file, but here is one thing I do understand: God is up to something really big in our hardships and suffering! Here is how The Message renders Paul’s words about what God is up to:

“These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”

Paul is right! We don’t lose heart!

Grace and peace,

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