“We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:3-5)
In the older version: “We rejoice in our sufferings”. It’s an easy statement to misconstrue. There are some who would say that if we had sufficient faith, then we would not suffer at all. They maintain this in the face of an extraordinary amount of Biblical evidence. Think of the life of Job, Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and, of course, the very tenor of the life and work –and death- of Jesus himself. No, “In this world, you WILL have trouble…” (John 16:33).
Again there are those who would say that what was to be done was to grit your teeth and bear it. It’s the reply of the Stoic. But without mocking the fortitude of those who are forced to bear suffering. But we must acknowledge that this is not the point Paul was making. I do not rejoice in my suffering against all odds.
Nor do I enjoy pain! Any visit to the dentist should bring home with resounding clarity the fact that we are not called to be masochists!
No. Paul was able to say “We rejoice in our sufferings” because of what those sufferings produce. “Suffering [he goes on] produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.” He was indicating a process that created something, and he rejoiced in the fact of that result. Now, strictly speaking, the word that he uses for “suffering” does not mean sickness, sorrow or bereavement but tribulation (thlipsis) which includes all the pressures and pains of a hostile world. “When troubles come, and my heart burdened be…”
It’s the stuff that comes at you all the time.
Jesus described such suffering as a door into glory. Look at Luke 24:26. “The Christ must suffer and so enter into his glory”. Paul says the same in Romans 8:17. We follow his lead, as servants following their boss: “Provided we suffer with him, in order that we may also be glorified with him”.
I can’t rejoice in the suffering itself, but help me at least to learn to see the big picture.
Let me rejoice in the anticipation of the glory to come and in the troubles that form the door to it, not as a masochist, not as a stoic, but because you are working something out in me.
And I will trust you in every curve of the road.