The air was warm, almost stale. I had just walked by people hanging out at the beach, but the evening didn’t feel like summer should. It certainly wasn’t a vacation to her. She was around sixteen years old and I struggled to understand her words, but her eyes told me everything I needed to know. They were empty as I looked into them.
I knew I’d meet someone like her… it was inevitable. Yet what I thought I’d say on the plane ride over was escaping me in that moment. The language barrier kind of disappeared as she shared about her love for her family. A few minutes later into our conversation a drink was set in front of me. I didn’t want it. I had been told that in order to talk to her, or rather, any of the girls at the bar, I’d have to order a drink. The owners wanted to make money… through drinks and girls.
She was half dressed and so were the two other girls that eventually joined us. The city of Pattaya in Thailand is known as the sex capital of the world and there was nothing that I saw around me that told me otherwise. Walking back to our ministry site after leaving the bar I felt a cloak of darkness. There were hundreds of bars just like the one I was just sitting in; and the sight of each one filled my mind with the same question, “God, why?”
Sitting alone with God in my room that night the tears from my lack of understanding streamed out. I couldn’t reconcile what I had heard and saw in the past 24 hours. I broke. I opened my bible, not knowing what else to do, and there they were… words that would surpass the question that was barreling me under it’s weight:
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 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 Cor. 4:17-18)
I thought if anyone could write these words it was Paul. He had the credentials for suffering. But how in the world could he describe his suffering as anything but heavy? This thought almost made me miss the next word… “momentary”.
Momentary. In that moment it was like I was transported upward and was reading this verse from a higher perspective. Here before me was a truth Paul recognized, but I hadn’t been able to apply to my questions of human suffering: Life on earth is a blip compared to eternity.
Paul saw his sufferings through an eternal lens. He understood that an eternity in the presence of Jesus far surpassed seasons of suffering here on earth. He knew that the pain that afflicts in this life can be so consuming that’s it hard to see what isn’t visibly in front of us.
God has given us far beyond what we seek in our questions of human suffering. He’s given us an eternity with Him beyond this momentary, afflicting, difficult, heartbreaking, and fragile earthly life. Paul is encouraging us when it’s hard to reconcile what we see with the truths that God is good and God is loving: Look to what is unseen.
When the diagnosis turns your whole world upside down: Look to what is unseen. When the disappointment is shattering: Look to what is unseen. When your family is broken: Look to what is unseen. When the pain is consuming: Look to what is unseen.
As I write this I think of a woman at a middle school we are present at that was just diagnosed with cancer. I see the faces of the children I have met at the detention center that long for a family. And I think of the thousands of girls around the world who are right now being sold for greed. There isn’t an answer that can satisfy the experience of human suffering. But there is a hope set in an eternity that will surpass it. Jesus didn’t come to give answers… He came to give Himself. He is our hope… and the hope for this suffering world.