“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, becuase God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
Most of us live in the idea that suffering is to be avoided. In fact, we avoid most of the things that Jesus says we would be blessed for: being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, being persecuted. We’d rather skip those. But here Paul says we should rejoice in our sufferings. Not just out of duty or obedience, but because they actually have value. They produce hope. I don’t know that living a life avoiding pain produces anything but fear.
Martin Luther said, “He who has faith indeed has all the excellent things but in a hidden way. Through tribulation they are tried and purified to the highest degree. Whatever tribulation finds in us, it develops more fully. If anyone is carnal, weak, blind, wicked, irascible, haughty, tribulation will make him more so. On the other hand, if one is spiritual, strong, wise, pious, gentle, and humble, he will become more so. Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient.”
If I am strong, and suffering makes me more so, then it is strengthening me through building endurance. By continuing on, I develop character. And by seeing how God is succeeding through me and shaping me, I receive hope. If I am weak, and suffering reveals that, then hopefully I will turn to God. I will learn to lean on His strength, to hold on with endurance. I develop the character of dependence. And in finding that I have leaned on Him and He has never let me go, I find hope.
Acts 14:22 says, “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” We MUST. There is no other way. This is where our path lies. “Those are ignorant, childish, and indeed hypocritical who outwardly venerate the relics of the Holy Cross, yet flee and detest tribulation and affliction,” (Luther).
But I think we miss that these comments on suffering follow verse 1: “…we have peace with God….” Every bit of our suffering is within the peace with God. It is not separate. We do not hope for resolution someday. In the midst of our suffering, we have peace with God. We are His, and He is in complete control. Which means that somehow this path of suffering is for our good, even for our best. It is the path of peace.