Another Thought on Suffering and Hope

The longer I study, the more aware I become of false gospels. Among them the kinds that promise easy things and smooth sailing through life and are abandoned at the first sign of difficulty or pain on the road to glory. Today’s text provides another jolt to such expectations, even within another highly promising text. Romans 5:1-11:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

I don’t know about any of my readers, but there are times I feel a need to repent of my desire for an easy life. It’s not as though I’ve had one to this point, though my hardships could be considered light when measured against those of countless other people who have named Christ as Lord. But the fact remains that I have spent more time lamenting the hardships than I have applying myself to the lessons they have to offer about faith, which in turn limits the extent to which hope dominates my life.

There is a difference, an important one at that, between rejoicing in our sufferings and rejoicing for our sufferings. The former is the way of godly response to the inevitable experiences of brokenness in this world; the latter is a way of self-pity and dwelling in the negative, a sort of self-absorption that becomes burdensome to those around us, who must hear about our ills in order to recognize the heroic nature of our journey. The former looks ahead; the latter holds to the present as though it is our suffering that will justify us. When we affirm that it is only by faith in what Christ has done that we are justified, that option is not open to us.

Knowing that one stands in grace and nothing else is what Paul proclaims as the way to hope fulfilled. Not the keeping of the law, but the believing of God; not the amount of hardship we overcome, but the faithful expectation that God will deliver us when it counts. How this contrasts with versions of Christian proclamation that make it sound as though all of our difficulties will be over the moment we “accept Jesus” and move on toward heaven! People are then left to wonder why God allows unpleasant things to happen, sometimes abandoning faith entirely, but more often attempting to hide the doubts under a cloak of religious observance. Since God can’t be trusted to protect the person from trouble, how can we entrust our decisions and ways to his guidance? Small wonder that there is little rejoicing in such a life.

I have focused thoughts on vv. 3-5 of the printed passage. Perhaps there are other reasons or observations you might have as to why the joy which should come from the truth conveyed does not characterize Christian life to a greater extent. Please share any that occur to you as you read the full text.

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