A quick trip to Colorado this summer uncovered a beautiful aspect of God’s creation. Stunned by layers on top of layers of solid, unmoving rock, I began to wonder how my understanding of God as my Rock would become crucial in the next season of change.
I really had no idea what was ahead. In mid-August, I braced myself for a million minor changes like a new school for the kids and other small beginnings; by the end of the month, Harvey had changed my community forever.
Every attempt to capture on camera what moved my heart in those Colorado mountains only led to frustration. Even when I tried to express on paper what had inspired awe in me, I couldn’t come up with the words. I found my struggle to articulate the beauty before me extremely uncomfortable.
God gave me a phrase to sink into: Rock of Ages.
Rock of Ages seemed too massive and weighty when I tried to grasp its deepest meaning. The further I prodded, the less sure of myself I became. Maybe that’s right where God wanted me.
Months later, now surrounded by images of devastation and the very opposite of beauty, I recognize that same frustration and discomfort. During the last few weeks, when I scroll through my social media newsfeed, the most common caption is this: “No words.” And there aren’t any that can describe, explain, alleviate what remains after disaster. Words cannot possibly convey the heavy, heavy heartbreak of extensive homelessness and upheaval.
Devastation has crept up to my doorstep forcing me to notice, yet suffering lies in every nook and cranny of this groaning world. Fires, floods, earthquakes, persecution, hatred, violence… all hover beneath that banner of indescribable suffering.
In the absence of adequate words, we face our own vulnerability.
Vulnerability not only feels uncomfortable, it well acquaints us with frustration and confusion. We can’t control suffering or catalogue it; we can’t box it in or fix it. No formula or bulleted list will help.
Moses led a people more comfortable with another rock. Though I wish this idea was foreign, I completely get it. Humanity craves clarity, definition, control. We’ll take a tidy checklist over an inconceivable glory just to avoid facing our own vulnerability. We don’t naturally move towards discomfort or dependence.
But when we take this collective picture of indescribable suffering—whether death or divorce or disaster—and hold it up to the Rock who has remained constant throughout all of time, the need for understanding is washed away by mercy. And rich, rich love. The most grace-filled words in all of Jesus’ ministry were these: “Come to me.”
Our indescribable Rock is the only One who knows just what to do with indescribable pain.
I’m tempted to boil it down to a simple equation: unfathomable pain meets inconceivable glory, as if they are two equal and opposite poles. This is entirely false. If we wanted to compare, to sort out the difference, we’d have to examine the extent of each.
Hold up suffering to the Rock Eternal, and we find a vast difference in weight.
When Paul wrote about suffering and glory, he used a word to examine this difference. He assigned our seen suffering and God’s unseen glory with the terms, transient and eternal.
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 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)
Nothing about the suffering here on earth feels light, but Paul was making a case for comparison here. The word that translates in English as “beyond all comparison” is the Greek word hyperbolḗ. We use hyperbole to illustrate extravagance; we rarely take these figures of speech literally. They amplify, enhance, and exaggerate the truth.
Hyperbolḗ means beyond all measure.
Most hyperboles sound incredible, but they just aren’t true. This weight of glory beyond all comparison is every bit true as it is awesome.
Suffering has a definite beginning and a definite end. Pain and loss entered the world at the fall; we find every detail recorded on the pages of Genesis. In Revelation, we read that all suffering will come to an end when Jesus returns. He is the beginning and the end, the One who was and is and is to come.
We don’t need formulas, descriptions, or human attempts to alleviate suffering. We need faith in Jesus and constant, daily reminders that we will one day see Him face to face. And on that day, our only response will be indescribable praise.
You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. Deuteronomy 32:18 (NIV)
Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. Isaiah 26:4 (NIV)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 (NIV)