|Paul wrote the Romans that he rejoiced in his sufferings (5:3). No, he was no sadist nor masochist. Paul knew that perseverance, character and even hope are formed when faith passes through the fires of suffering. It wasn’t that suffering was joyful—it can be beneficial. Our American “pursuit of happiness,” programs us to be highly suspicious if not outright rejecting of the long-term benefits that might come from suffering. We want to reject a hard path to growth and maturity. We prefer our way be easy and that it come with lots of assurances that it is only going to grow easier.
You would think our powers of observation would burst such naïve dreams, but they are quite resilient. It is tragic when they are more persevering than our faith. Faith tempered by the fires of suffering becomes much stronger and more capable of holding up through difficult times in life. Watching Jesus in the gospels reveals the way to glory often travels through the valleys of agony.
Do we take seriously our call to discipleship? Do we want to learn from Jesus how to face adversity? Yes, through his miracles there were numerous people whose pains were alleviated. His goodness shines from his healing the sick, raising the dead and giving sight to the blind. But Jesus personally experienced suffering. “Man of Sorrows, what a name…” are the words to the old hymn. Are you sure you want to follow him?
When life is going well and good things happen, praise God. Don’t look over your shoulder expecting the next shoe to drop. Just praise him and enjoy. When suffering comes, praise him, too. Realize the good we experience is a gift from God. The hard things can be used by him to make us people of strong, enduring faith.
Tragedies don’t have to have tragic endings. We all know people who’ve come out on the other side better people. People of real depth and substance that assures us we want to be around them because they’ve weathered the storms. God brought them through the worst life has to offer. He will do the same with us if we persevere. Don’t give up when the way is difficult. Keep on keeping on.
John Kenneth King