3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 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 5:3-5, NRSV
I want some of what Paul is talking about in this passage. Especially in this season of covid-tide, I want some of what Paul is highlighting here. Hope, for example. I could use some hope. And character, of course — who among us doesn’t want to be known as a person of character? And endurance, too. I want to be a person of endurance, a person with the kind of strength and patience that endurance requires.
I want hope. I want character. I want endurance.
But suffering? I don’t want suffering. Yet there it is, right at the start of the list, right at the heart of the matter. Paul writes that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” but… Paul, can we negotiate a bit on this? Can we start the process with something other than suffering?
For what it’s worth, I don’t think the intent of this passage is to glorify suffering or to incite the reader to actively seek out suffering. (Besides, first-century followers of Jesus didn’t have to go looking for suffering… it was more likely to find them first.) Rather, I think the intent of this passage is to make some sense of suffering… and perhaps even find a bit of redemptive value in it. Does suffering leave anything good in its wake? Any new lessons learned, new qualities instilled, new growth achieved, new wisdom found?
Last week, when we were away for a few days for a socially-distant family getaway, we made a quick stop at the Ithaca Children’s Garden. As we walked toward the front entrance, we encountered this sign:
We grow through what we go through. Paul would probably agree.
He would probably say: When we “go through” suffering, we “grow through” it, too. We grow in our capacity for endurance. We grow in the quality of our character. We grow in the steadfastness of our hope. We grow through what we go through.
We’re “going through” some stuff, friends. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, our particular experiences of difficulty, struggle, or even suffering may differ… yet the very definition of “pandemic” means that none of us remain unaffected. There is no question that we are all “going through” something.
I suppose the only question is: How will we grow through it? What kind of growth will God bring through it?
After all, this truth remains:
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
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