Question: "Why does Paul call our difficulties a "momentary, light affliction" (2 Corinthians 4:17)?"
Answer: Life is hard. Disease, death, and difficulties abound on this side of eternity. Sin has marred what God originally created perfect. While difficulties are rarely enjoyable when we experience them, these hardships are only a “momentary, light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NASB) for the Christian. Our difficult circumstances have the ability to produce good fruit in our lives and to remind us of what matters eternally.
The context of Paul’s statement is important: “We do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying, yet our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:1618, NASB).
Difficulties abound in life: with relationships, jobs, health, and day-to-day activities. Christians are not exempt from these difficulties; in fact, they may experience even more than their fair share: earlier in the same passage, Paul described some of the troubles he and others faced as “jars of clay” in this world (2 Corinthians 4:7). When difficulties arise, they might seem monumental, and they have the ability to incapacitate us. However, believers have hope that even the worst suffering experienced on earth is only “light and momentary troubles” compared to the glories of eternity in heaven. Life here on earth is but a vapor (James 4:14), but our eternal life in glory, yet unseen, will make the affliction worth it all. In fact, the troubles we have today are achieving for us a lasting benefit: “They produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NLT).
The Holy Spirit living within believers is the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, and He assures us that we, too, will be raised from the dead (2 Corinthians 4:14). This truth allows us to keep an eternal perspective when we go through hardships.
In Romans 5:3–5, Paul reminds us that we can “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” When we trust God through our suffering, we allow Him to shape our faith and character. Even when it does not fully make sense to us why we are going through difficulties, believers have hope that their suffering is not purposeless.
Through our momentary, light affliction, we can choose to draw near to God and even thrive in the hardship, filled with the hope that our troubles grow our character and faith. We remember that this world is not our final home. There’s something better coming, “surpassing all comparisons, a transcendent splendor and an endless blessedness!” (2 Corinthians 4:17, AMP).
When we go through hard times, let us “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Let us choose to walk by faith and draw near to God, who is “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).