Hope in Suffering

Romans 5:1 “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, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Romans 5:1-5 NRSV

“Life is hard and if there is no God then what is the point in all of this?”

These words have stuck with me ever since my friend and I sat on a beach talking about the reality of our lives. The struggles, the suffering and why life can just not be fair sometimes.

In this passage Paul is speaking about this dualism of the now and not yet, expressing the truth that we have been reconciled to God. The Glory of God which was unreachable has now become something we get to walk in and get to share. But then, Paul begins to talk about the other side, the reality of human life, that suffering is part and parcel of living in this world. The reality is that no one escapes suffering in life in some sort of way. Speaking from his own conviction Paul explains that suffering doesn’t have to be a wasted experience; it doesn’t have to be the thing that causes us to crumble; that we can grow from it; that it helps us to endure and shapes our character.

I decided to ask some of my friends, who express to have faith and none, this question.

Do you think that good can come out of experiencing suffering in your life?

My friends, who expressed to have no faith, explained that it really depends on the person. One friend who experienced neglect throughout their childhood said that suffering taught them that they would never bring their own children up in the same way. Their experience made them see the impact of what is right and wrong and that made them want to grow to be a better person. They explained, forgiveness is crucial in growing from suffering because bitterness holds you in that place.

Another friend said that suffering can give you a new perspective; that it was dependent on the individual. Someone could experience the same suffering and crumble, but there isn’t an underlying trait or skill you need, to be able to grow from it.

So I asked them, “What is it that gets you through it; what grows you?” They answered “it is if you can see a positive, it’s if you can see hope”.

This word hope seemed to be central in all of my friend’s responses and hope is what is described to come out of suffering in the passage.

My Christian friends explained hope to be Jesus; that he is bringing order through the chaos. He is faithful, and I believe, for all of my friends, that glimmer of light in the darkness, whether they know it or not, is Jesus in their midst. I wonder if we just need to give hope a name for the people and tell them it’s Jesus.

We had a lesson, recently, on the power of Theology and we took a look at the word ‘Kenosis’ which basically means Christ emptying himself, becoming the likeness of men and therefore vulnerable to human suffering. This is derived from the passage in Philippians 2:7. Some theologians at the time really struggled with the idea of Christ being vulnerable. Today it’s very easy to look at vulnerability as not being strong, not being successful and just a bit wet. So these theologians at the time decided to explain that this moment of Christ emptying himself was a powerful, victorious moment.

Reflecting on this, I began to wonder whether this view has manifested in how we view suffering in the church and how we communicate our faith. I don’t know about you, but every testimony I’ve heard talks about suffering in past tense but the victory is always now. I was once in a mess but now life is great.

Maybe you have felt that you need to hide your suffering, to show your best face, and be someone who looks like they have it together?

I wonder how harmful that is in our churches and communities if that is what we portray.

Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, made himself vulnerable to suffering just as we, as people, experience it. Yet Jesus shows us within the suffering there is a way to yield and rely on God that in turn forms us. As this now and not yet reality, of being fallen yet saved by grace, having free will, but surrendering to the will of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us through this life, we will find comfort, we will find freedom and we will find hope.

Sometimes suffering happens because of the cost of following Jesus. As we recently heard, from guest speaker Henrietta Blyth CEO of open doors, of Christians suffering for their beliefs across the world.

As westerners we do not share anything near the experiences of our persecuted brothers and sisters. But the question is, are we willing to stand up for the injustices we see around us.

In Exodus 1:1-21 there is a story of the king of Egypt commanding some midwifes to go and kill all of the Israelite baby boys being born because he was concerned that they would overpopulate and take over his empire. But the midwifes feared God more than pharaoh. They saw the injustice and so disobeyed pharaoh even though they would have been vulnerable to being slaughtered. They stood in the gap and said, ‘not on my watch will this injustice continue’.

Are we willing to say that the suffering we see isn’t right? Are we willing to stand in the gap, like those midwifes, even if it means that we will become vulnerable and possibly suffer the consequences?

Having personal wounds isn’t necessarily a weakness, it can draw us to see people better, to know that we are not the ones who have it all. We can’t sort the mess, but we can be empathetic, we can be listeners, we can pray, support and point to Christ who is our one and true hope.

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