Question: I have a question that I hope you can help with: Is it true that the greater the affliction (pain/suffering) the Christian suffers in this life, the greater the reward he/she receives in heaven?
Response: You ask if the greater pain and suffering we experience in our lives means a greater reward in heaven. That concept is certainly a hallmark of religious systems that are based upon our works as the criteria for salvation. Islamic writings in the Qur’an and hadith abound with such ideas: “The greater the hardship or trial or tribulation, the greater the reward. The greater the difficulty, the greater the reward...will be for you and for me from Allah” (Tabarak wa ta’ala).
The Scriptures certainly indicate rewards for the faithful, for Jesus taught, “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets” (Lk 6:22-23).
In Mark:10:29-30, Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”
The Lord promises eternal life, which is far more than a mere quantity (unending life). It also includes the quality of life that we shall experience in heaven. That alone is a sufficient focus for eternity.
The Lord warns of the judgment faced by believers at the judgment seat of Christ: “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor:3:13-15).
The Scriptures do not give us details about rewards that are greater than other rewards. Rather, the comparison is made between “rewards,” and “loss of rewards.” Is not every reward given by God “great?” According to 2 Corinthians:5:10, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad (i.e, worthless).” The “rewards” or “losses” experienced by believers in heaven are the result of our work, that is, our conduct, as we live out our lives in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is commonly expressed about rewards seems to be based more upon the aspirations of man than the promises of Scripture.