Without an eternal perspective, we misinterpret the details of our lives. Here’s how that happens: we see anything that hinders our comfort and convenience in the present as a nuisance, or even an enemy. We despair over lost opportunities and frantically clamor for relational and physical fulfillment. We seek satisfaction for the infinite longings of our hearts by forcing, demanding, and manipulating our way through life. We misinterpret and reject hardship of all kinds because we don’t have an internal view of God’s eternal picture.
But having an eternal perspective reorients you. With a gaze at eternity and on our Eternal God, there is peace and even joy in suffering. There is hope when we sorrow over our sin and gentleness when we face the sin of others against us. There is contentment with the present because we don’t demand perfection and complete fulfillment now. We know that this world was never meant to ultimately satisfy.
Seeing Through the Everyday
The Apostle Paul had a way of viewing life that enabled him to interpret his circumstances with a wide-angle lens. He was able to think of his extraordinary suffering as “light and momentary” and as accomplishing something supremely valuable (2 Cor 4:16–17). He saw his afflictions (multiple beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, persecution, etc.) as preparing him for something that was so glorious, so wonderful, so captivating, that his present pain didn’t capture his focus and didn’t define his identity. He developed this perspective by honing his spiritual sight: he did not look to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen (2 Cor 4:18). As he focused on the unseen, Paul was refining his ability to see as God sees and to value as God values.
An eternal perspective is a way of seeing the pain, pleasure, and purpose of our lives as part of the redemptive story God is orchestrating. It is seeing through the daily grind, the tumultuous highs, and the frequent lows to the destination of eternity. Everyone is destined for eternity: some will experience eternal life and some, eternal death.
You have an eternal soul that will live forever, either in God’s life-giving presence or apart from God, in a never-ending consciousness of death. Although many seek to deny this reality (Rom 1:18), God has graciously stamped the truth of His existence, His perfect law, and our accountability to Him on our souls (Rom 1:20-21; Rom 2:15-16). But this knowledge only leads to a terrible eternal destination unless we embrace the hinge point of God’s redemptive story.
The hinge point is His Son, Jesus Christ, who perfectly loved God and flawlessly kept God’s law and sacrificially paid the debt our sin and rebellion had accrued. Jesus rose from the dead to destroy death itself. Our eternal destinations change when we desperately cling to Jesus alone in repentance and faith. Only those who have changed eternal destinations will savor the details of their future with God. And only those who savor the details of their future with God will rightly interpret and respond to what happens in their lives now. Developing an eternal perspective is essential to worshipfully handling our current responsibilities with hope and joy.
Looking to the Future Now
So how do we develop this spiritual skill of seeing the unseen? Seeing the unseen is a description of faith. And God graciously tells us faith’s origin: faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). As we read God’s Word, the Holy Spirit convinces us of the absolute reliability of God’s character and his faithfulness to his wonderful promises.
For example, Paul knew that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead meant that he would be raised with the Lord Jesus one day too (2 Cor 4:14). Paul trusted God to provide an eternal home in the heavens for him where death, pain, and suffering would be totally eliminated (2 Cor 5:2). Paul’s longing to be at home with the Lord changed his view of his circumstances. He saw that the difficulties and disappointments of his life were creating a capacity to know and enjoy God forever. Author Randy Alcorn puts it this way:
Present sufferings must be seen in light of the promise of eternal happiness in God. The scales can’t be balanced in this life alone. We do not pass our peaks in this life. The best is yet to come. Missed opportunities will be replaced by billions of new and better opportunities . . . Don’t wait until you die to believe that. Believing it now will change how you think, how you view the people around you, and what you do with your time and money, which are really God’s.
Paul loved to behold His God in the eyes of his heart. He saw such glory and beauty as he gazed at God that all the hardship he endured didn’t overtake his vision (Rom 8:18). His suffering did not eclipse God.
Interestingly, Paul did not deny his suffering—far from it. He even tells us about times when he was utterly burdened beyond strength, despairing of life itself, afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and groaning (2 Cor 1:8; 4:8–9; 5:2–4). But his honesty didn’t become fault-finding with God because he saw the pain as a gracious helper to push him to treasure what is ultimate and eternal—God Himself.
A Transformed Witness
We develop an eternal perspective as we cherish the character and promises of God and savor the unbreakable reality that one day we will experience Him without sin or sorrow, for eternity. God’s grace enables us to look through the present to the future, to look through Scripture to see the Returning Savior, to look through pleasures to see the Giver, and to look through suffering to see our Great Prize.
Astonishingly, as we cherish and savor the unseen, God changes us more and more into His image (2 Cor 3:18) and propels us into ministry. The Puritan Thomas Watson says,
If we love God, we shall spread abroad His excellences, that so we may raise His fame and esteem, and may induce others to fall in love with Him. Love cannot be silent; we shall be as so many trumpets, sounding forth the freeness of God’s grace, the transcendency of His love, and the glory of His kingdom. Love is like fire: where it burns in the heart, it will break forth at the lips.
As we read God’s Word and savor our promised future with God, the demands and heartache of the present won’t control us. God gives us hope and joy in suffering because we know how glorious our eternal destination will be.