There is a difficult truth which believers must remember every day: this life isn’t the ultimate one. It is difficult in that the present, tangible existence we presently enjoy is all we know; its comforts and promises of fulfillment are always tantalizing. That there is a grander existence waiting doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the present world, but that we should enjoy it with the understanding that it isn’t the final world. A new world is coming—a heavenly country—one prepared for the righteous people of God.
It’s easier to remember this during times of tragedy. Struggle creates a longing for something more; comfort often dulls our senses to a greater reality. The Psalmist understood this as well. It was when he was persecuted that the promise of a new life—an eternal one—became sweetest to his heart. In Psalm 17 he writes:
“Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!
Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
from men by your hand, O Lord,
from men of the world whose portion is in this life.
You fill their womb with treasure;
they are satisfied with children,
and they leave their abundance to their infants.
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”—Psalm 17:13-15
David is surrounded by “men of the world whose portion is in this life.” These are self-made men, consumed only with present prosperity without regard to their eternal state. Their pursuit of momentary comfort negates their ability to pursue eternal reward. Interestingly, David sees God’s hand in their abundance: “You fill their womb with treasure…” Of course, God isn’t blessing the wicked and punishing the righteous; but, since God is often impartial in the offering the abundance that the world offers (Matt. 5:45), it can appear to the suffering person that God is favoring them. This can make our pain even more difficult. It’s important to remember two truths in that moment.
First, we must not gauge a person’s prosperity with the Lord’s favor. Without realizing it, we naturally assume that, if someone’s life is going well, they must be in a right relationship with God. In reality, some of the most prosperous people you know may be the most damned. It’s a warning for us as well: we must not assume that, if this present life is going well, that our eternal state is secure.
Secondly, we learn that ultimate satisfaction for the righteous isn’t found in this life, but in the one to come. When we “awake” we will be satisfied with the likeness of God. The pure in heart will see the face of God (Matt. 5:8). This seems to be an appeal to resurrection (death often being referred to as sleeping, and being awake as being alive, 1 Thess. 5:10). Therefore, the righteous look beyond the present moment—not to a dream—but to a genuine and true existence which will be experienced in the presence of the source of all beauty, comfort, and pleasure.