We often speak of heaven as a place where our earthly suffering will end. And what a wonderful truth! No more dementia, no more cancer, no more broken relationships! Even better, no more of the thing which casts a shadow over every living creature on this fallen planet – death.
But there is even more wonder to it than that. In the new heavens and earth, our suffering on this side of eternity will not simply end, but it will be redeemed! It will be transformed! And the proof of that is the resurrection, where Jesus’ suffering did not simply come to an end, but was transformed into something good, even wonderful – the good news of salvation for all who believe. So as we live on this side of eternity, in which our bodies get sick and our minds break down and our souls are troubled, we can be sure that this suffering will not only come to an end, but will be redeemed in ways we cannot now imagine.
You can see this in Thomas’ experience after the resurrection. Thomas, the only disciple who hadn’t seen the resurrected Christ, said to the other disciples, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” In other words, “Prove it!” Thomas wanted undeniable proof. He could not comprehend how something as terrible as the crucifixion of Jesus – his Master, Friend, and Messiah – could actually be transformed into good news, as the other disciples were now claiming.
Eight days went by until Christ appeared again to the disciples, this time specifically to speak to the doubting Thomas. Knowing his request for proof, Jesus gives him exactly what he asks for. “Come, Thomas, see the wounds? Touch the holes from the nails, place your hand where the spear entered.” Thomas, of course, didn’t need to touch and feel. He fell on his face and cried in confession, “My Lord and my God!”
There is much in this story worthy of note, but perhaps the most unique thing about this scene is not so much to do with Thomas, but with the resurrected body of Jesus. The holes from the nails remained. The gash from the entrance of the spear remained. Isn’t that strange? You’d expect the resurrection body to be wholly unblemished and restored. So why is it that these wounds remain, wounds that are so reminiscent of the old life?
You might think it is something unique to Christ himself, but the resurrected body of Christ is meant to be the basis of our hope, the promise of the resurrected body we will receive, or as Paul puts it, the first-fruits of the rest of the crop. So we must ask: will our heavenly bodies be like Jesus’, having all the scars, and imperfections of this life? Even more, will our new minds and hearts still carry the wounds and grief of this life? In one sense, absolutely not. In another sense, yes, indeed.
Scripture sometimes refers to our present life in the body as a seed that must be buried in death (see 1 Cor 15, John 12:24). When the resurrection comes, everything that was invested in seed form will come to fruition. In the case of Christ, he sowed his crucifixion and reaped salvation for his people and glory for himself. The marks of the nails are no longer a cause for pain but joy. So the resurrection gives profound meaning and purpose to the lives we live in the present, since everything we do is a part of that seed that will come to fruition in the new creation. This is why David said in Psalm 56, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” David is trusting that God is taking account of his suffering so that one day He may redeem it – not simply ending it, but transforming it into good.
You probably cannot envision it now – how your cancer, your spouse’s dementia, your parent’s grief could be transformed into something good. But who would imagine, looking at an acorn, that it will one day be a giant oak tree? Likewise, who would have imagined that the disciples would, just three days after the crucifixion of Jesus, refer to his death as good news? The point is not for you to figure out how God will redeem your wounds, but to trust that he will, just as he did the wounds of his Son; and in that trust, that you find hope and courage to press on in the midst of this fallen world.