The unrecognized beauty of suffering

Jan. 8, 2017 | by Matthew Fretwell

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:1-2).

Scholars have attempted to paint us a picture of our heavenly home. It usually falls short of magnificence and awe. I have always found it interesting that John explicitly describes each jewel and color in the walls, foundation, and streets. Yet—one stands out above all the rest.

John writes, “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl…” (Revelation 21:21a).

A pearl. Why a pearl? Isn’t that odd? Or have you never thought about it?

Recognized beauty

The “Pearl of Gates” is a title that has enraptured the church for millennia. Songs, hymns, poems, and writings galore have embraced the shiny white treasure. However, out of all of the gems that are listed in John’s collection of color and grandeur—solely, and only, the pearl stands unique.

A pearl is not a stone. Nor is it mined gem from the ground. A pearl is special. Women love the smooth elegance of a fine strand of pearls—always deemed as classy.

For John, it must have been difficult to put into words what he envisioned. However, I don’t think John choose the pearl for color. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit it was chosen for its uniqueness.

Irritable suffering

None of us are strangers to suffering. As Jesus stated, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). As followers of Christ, we are not without suffering.

Like Job, we are allowed to enter into it to find our humility and the sovereignty of God. We can learn a lot from the pearl. The pearl is unique because it is the only listed jewel that comes from suffering.

A pearl begins its slow creative process from a tiny grain of sand. It enters the mollusk unnoticed and rests underneath the muscle. The mollusk begins to endure an itchy irritation and coats the sand with an excreted substance—almost reminiscent of human tears. Over time, the oyster lays down multiple layers to halt its suffering—creating a beautifully refined pearl.

Without enduring suffering, a genuine pearl cannot exist. Each of us, like a mollusk, endures uninvited suffering, but the grander picture may be to produce something beautiful—character and patience in our faith (James 1:2-3).

Entering through suffering

But there’s more! I believe that John is given divine inspiration regarding the pearl. The vision of the “pearl of gates” is for those that will enter the glorious Kingdom of Christ. It’s not just a portrait of God’s splendor, but how the Christian has entered into a suffering union with Christ.

Paul validates when he declares, “that I may know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). When we share in the suffering of Christ, we enter an eternal relationship with Him and into His kingdom.

Present reality

No one enjoys suffering. But suffering brings us closer to Christ—our Savior. Suffering rids us of boasting and pride. Suffering removes the tough exterior and yields a vulnerable heart.

When we crack open an oyster and find a pearl, we only see the finished product of beauty. Likewise, the pearl of gates are hung with the nails of Christ. Behind the gates is the finished product of beauty. Through the enduring suffering of Jesus, we enter into his kingdom.

In my opinion, there is no other suitable material for the doors of Christ’s Kingdom. No master is like our Master, who provides peace and presence during suffering. Jesus has promised that he’s always with us (Matthew 28:20).

Take heart—he who has suffered knows your anguish.

And, remember the pearl—what may be irritable and painful now—through tears may yield something beautiful later.  

Topics: Discipleship, Fellowship & Community, Ministry

Matthew Fretwell

Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author, pastor, national director of operations for New Breed Church Planting, and founder of Planting RVA, in Richmond, Va. Matt writes for Church Planter Magazine and is pursuing his doctorate at Southeastern.

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