Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope … Romans 5: 1-4
The Holy Bible is our extraordinary gift from believers who have gone before us. Sometimes it is also troubling.
If its messages were always easy, if we didn’t have to work at it, there would be no need for faith. We all probably have Scripture references with which we wrestle. The passage that begins Romans 5, our Epistle lesson this last Sunday, is one of those tough ones for me. It’s that part about suffering producing endurance and character.
In the larger context of what most of this world faces, I can’t say I win any prize for suffering. But I’ve dealt with abuse and betrayal, I’ve lost loved ones to terrible diseases, and awful things have happened to family members. You have your own list, I’m sure. I honestly don’t want more character. Well-meaning souls will invariably tell us, just when we feel we are about to go under for the last time, that “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” #@*%! (I think this is the first time that has appeared in a Daily Cup.) Bad theology, bad advice.
So what is Paul telling us about boasting in our suffering? He presented himself as a true apostle of Christ as he traveled and preached. He considered his own suffering to be a sign of his worthiness and authority, attesting to the presence of the resurrected Christ within him.
I am not an apostle. I have tried, however, to understand suffering within the framework of my faith. One insight came through Austrian physician Viktor Frankl, author Man’s Search for Meaning and a Holocaust survivor. Frankl took a hard look at how one can survive in the presence of unspeakable anguish. “In some ways,” he wrote, “suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning ...”
Frankl found his meaning in helping others survive trauma. You and I find meaning through a Savior. While suffering still exists, we can know there is nothing we experience that Jesus has not felt. All that pain and suffering wound up on a cross and was redeemed Easter morning. We carry that liberation within us; we are human as was Jesus, suffer as did Jesus, and through him we can discover meaning for our lives.
We are Easter people, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. We know how our story ends.
During Lent, as we reflect and prepare once again for the celebration of our deliverance, what suffering in your life needs to be redeemed? What meaning—a realization that is life-giving—can you find? Where does living into that blessed meaning take you?
Maybe endurance, character and hope are ours after all.