“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5
When was the last time you were suffering through a painful, broken relationship, or an ongoing conflict that was fraying the very edges of your soul, and found yourself rejoicing in that? Where your struggle with a workmate, or neighbour, or family member is wearing you down – but yet you are somehow to see positives in this?
It’s a strange concept isn’t it, because the very nature of suffering is awful – suffering itself is painful, it drains us and hurts us, sometimes in the deepest places of our soul. And so our far more natural reaction is to focus on the pain. I (Bruce) remember one time working with a party in a mediation who said the biggest impact on him of the suffering was that it was damaging his very spirit – the suffering was most of all spiritual in nature.
Where, then, is Paul coming from when he writes to the Romans about “rejoicing” in suffering (the 1984 NIV translation), or, in this most recent 2011 translation, when he speaks of “glorying in our sufferings”? Paul is encouraging us to look past the pain, to God’s broader redemptive purposes in our life. We’ve all heard the expression “that which doesn’t break me makes me stronger”. I’m not sure all pain works that way – but the principle that pain in our life can be used by God in redemptive ways is certainly true.
Paul points us towards the broader results that enduring suffering can have in our lives; it requires courage of us as we persevere, it builds strength in us as we develop a character more able to carry the burdens of life which we will inevitably face, and this character produces HOPE! Not a vain hope in the sense of ‘I hope this conflict will go away’ – but rather hope in God to sustain us through the time of trial and also to trust him for our future (both on earth and in heaven).
When we look at suffering in this way, rather than straining against the suffering, we are able to lean into God and see what opportunities it presents. God, are you seeking to teach me something about myself? Is it an opportunity to serve another person? Is it a chance for me to please and honour you by demonstrating to others my total dependence on you and trust in you as I endure this time of trial?
This passage from Romans takes us back to the basic principle of conflict being an opportunity. If you are struggling with conflict at this time, and are suffering because of it, I pray that God may strengthen and encourage you to lean into him and be open to his using it in your life in ways that perhaps up till now you had not considered. If you can bless others and grow through this time, while clinging to the secure hope you have in Christ, then the suffering is not wasted, but instead becomes another part of our journey towards Christlikeness.