When I was younger, one of my favorite things to do in the summer was to help make hay. We would mow the grass into long windrows so that it could dry. And then we’d use a baler that would bind the hay into square bales and kick them back into a wagon with tall side racks. Each bale traced a different arc through the air. Sometimes a bale would explode coming out of the kicker because the twine had broken. Sometimes, especially at the corners of the field, a bale would miss the wagon entirely. When a wagon was full, another tractor would haul the wagon to the barn, where it would be unloaded. In the barn, someone would stand on the wagon and toss bales onto an elevator that would drop the bales in another part of the barn, where someone else would stack them tightly and throw rock salt on them to help preserve them.
Making hay was probably one of the hottest things we did on the farm, and it would leave you covered in dust and with scratches on your arms (and your legs, too, if you were dumb enough to wear shorts). But I loved everything about it. I loved the smell of mown fields and diesel and hay, loved watching the swallows swoop behind the tractors, the sunlight on the stubble, the wagons loaded high, loved the camaraderie of the work, the satisfaction of brushing scraps of hay from an empty wagon, loved drinking Kool-Aid from an old Thermos. And I especially loved the barn. I loved my grandpa’s barn in particular, with its huge hayloft, where pigeons cooed from somewhere near the ceiling, which was supported by huge beams, where wooden ladders led into mysterious shadows. When the work was done, it was as capacious and quiet as a cathedral.
So, I can understand why Jesus uses a barn as an image for heaven. In Matthew 13:24-30, Christ pictures this world as a field and the world to come as a barn. The people of God grow like wheat in the field, and in the end the righteous are gathered into the barn. I get why a barn is a good image for glory. It is a place of safety and repose, where the harvest lies protected and at peace, a place to enjoy the work that’s been done. On the other hand, unlike my grandpa’s hayloft, which was also dusty and dark and had floorboards that shook under a loaded wagon, heaven is where “the righteous will shine like the sun” in “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”
And if heaven is like a hayloft, then it’s fitting to compare this world to a field. After all, a field is a place of life and beauty, where seeds germinate and sprout, where meadowlarks sing. Yet it is also a changing and uncertain place. The rains may fail, or come too fast. There may be fire or frost. The locusts might come. Weeds may grow there, and thorns and thistles. Slaves may sweat there, armies fight there, the hungry weep there. The field is a place of blessing and curse, where Adam tills the ground from which he was taken, and where Cain spills his brother’s blood.
St. Paul also contrasts the field of this life and the barn of the life to come. In Romans 8, he writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (v. 18), and he develops the contrast between present sufferings and future glory.
It is necessary to face squarely the sufferings of which St. Paul speaks. As the Czech theologian Tomáš Halík says, “Faith that would like to close its eyes to … suffering is just an illusion.” it’s in grappling with suffering that the hope of glory is most powerful. A candle shines most brightly in the dark.
Here’s what the Apostle teaches: Through Adam’s disobedience the whole creation has been damaged. God’s good creation is now marked by suffering. The lives of all creatures — human and non-human alike — are now “subjected to futility” and bound to decay (Rom. 8:20-21). Rot has set in. All things bear the marks of devastation. The creation has become like a storm-tossed ship battered by the wind and waves, like a painting in which the pigment has degraded and the once-vibrant colors are fading to dingy browns and blacks.
Who can catalogue all the sufferings of this life? Here, virtue must struggle with vice. Plans fail, dreams fade, famine wastes, mothers bury their children. “In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succor, but of thee, O Lord?”
Even so: “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Suffering is not the whole story; we are destined for glory. “So we do not lose hope,” St. Paul boldly proclaims, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:16-17). This is very daring language indeed. Paul sees that the hope of glory is so vast and so weighty that, in comparison, all the sufferings of this present time are slight and momentary. Don’t think that he’s making light of suffering when he says this. No, the apostle Paul knew what it was to suffer. (And if you don’t believe me, read about his sufferings in 2 Cor. 11.) No, he’s not diminishing suffering. What he is doing is emphasizing in the strongest terms possible the power and the glory of Christian hope.
What is that hope? It is the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is our hope: “He that raised up Jesus from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in us” (Rom. 8:11). This is the hope of glory. Its certainty is what gives us courage to endure the sufferings of this life.
One of the other things I loved about making hay was what I got to eat at the end of a long day in the field. I especially liked my grandma’s cold milk soup. Cold milk soup is made by crumbling bread into a bowl and then pouring lots of fruit and sugar and milk on top. Believe it or not, it’s really good, and it’s the perfect meal for a hot summer day. When we were making hay, I would look forward to cold milk soup all day long; the promise of eating it helped me endure the sweat and scratches of the field.
How much more, then, does the hope of glory enable us to endure the sufferings of this life? St. Augustine says that although “human life is compelled to be wretched by all the grievous evils of this world, it is happy in the expectation of the world to come.” In this world, there is no lasting happiness. But there is happiness in hope. “For we are saved by hope” and “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Hope helps us to hold out, to endure to the end; to hold out even as we groan inwardly, waiting to be delivered finally from evil, our heads thrust forward, straining toward glory.
There is something further to say about suffering: although “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed,” this does not mean that suffering is meaningless. On the contrary, our suffering is significant insofar as it shares in Christ’s suffering. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows … and with his stripes we are healed.” The Lord Jesus bears our suffering in his body and still bears our suffering. When he rose from the dead, his wounds were not erased. His resurrected body still bears the wounds of the Passion, now made glorious. His suffering gives meaning to our suffering. “We suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him,” says St. Paul. And again, he says, we are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”
Because Jesus is risen from the dead, we can, with St. Paul, “rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” And “more than that,” Paul dares to say, “we rejoice in our sufferings.” This seems almost too much to say. How can this be? — “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” The One who called light out of darkness, brought Israel out of Egypt, and raised Jesus from the dead, can also bring hope from suffering. God is able to turn our suffering, even now, into glory. God is able to turn your mourning into joy, to comfort you, and give you gladness for sorrow. He will do this in his own good time, but he will do it. It might seem that he is never going to do it, and we may cry out, “How long, O Lord?” — but God is faithful, and he will do it in the end. This hope will not let us down. We know this because God has poured his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, given to us as a sort of down payment on the glory he has prepared for us. In other words, God gives himself to guarantee our hope. He has put himself on the line. Our hope is certain.
“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Then they will be at peace. Like crops gathered into a barn, they will rest secure, separated from all the changes and chances of the field. Then, purged and delivered from all evil, they will rejoice together in their God. Then, God himself will be their glory, and God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain.”
Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
 Matt. 13:43; Heb. 12:28.
 Gen. 3:23, 4:8.
 Tomáš Halík, Dotkni se ran (Touch the wounds) (Lidové noviny, Prague, 2008). Accessed here.
 Paraphrasing Augustine, civ. Dei 19.4.
 Isa. 53:4.
 Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 4:10.
 Rom. 5:2b-3.
 Luke 18:27.
 Jer. 31:13.
 1 Cor. 15:54.
 Rev. 21:4.
 Ps. 126:6-7.