It is difficult to write about suffering. Part of the reason: it is such a personal topic. Writing about suffering and consequently inviting readers to think about suffering also involves revisiting experiences we are doing our best to move beyond. Another reason has to do with the fact that it is very difficult to write about causes of and responses to suffering without unintentionally trivializing it by the very act of analyzing it.
Even though there are difficulties involved in broaching this topic, I want to share some observations built around one of my favorite passages of Scripture. I once made a note about Romans 5:1-11, which reads as follows:
When theology meets reality — What a Suffering Savior teaches suffering saints…
I also penciled in the following outline:
1) Joy in spite of circumstances… v. 2b, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
2) Salvation from sin… v. 8b, “Christ died for us”
3) Deliverance from wrath… v. 9b, “saved from God’s wrath through him”
Here are the verses:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. —Romans 5-1-11, NIV
Straight from the text:
1. The security of our faith—since we have been justified through faith:
a. we have peace with God
b. we have gained access into this grace in which we now stand
c. we rejoice in hope of the glory of God
d. we rejoice in sufferings
1) because we know that suffering produces perseverance
2) because we know that perseverance produces character
3) because we know that character produces hope
4) because hope does not disappoint
5) because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit
2. The saga of our faith—Christ died for the ungodly:
a. at just the right time
b. when we were still powerless
c. rarity of such an heroic act
d. someone might possibly dare to die for a good man
e. God demonstrates his love for us in Christ’s death for us while we were still sinners
3. The sufficiency of our faith—through Christ we have now received reconciliation:
a. We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.
b. Since we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, we shall be saved through His life!
c. Since we are reconciled by Christ’s death and saved by His life we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ!
When it comes to suffering, these verses speak to my heart powerfully. I hope they speak to you also. I am not sure of all the reasons why. I am not sure if it matters if we know any of these reasons. What I do know is suffering seems to be an environment in which doubts flourish. We always need to remember we have peace with God, we have gained access to His unmerited favor, and we stand in secure hope. This is not because of our own goodness; but, because Jesus Christ suffered in His flesh for our sins and poured forth the Holy Spirit of promise following His resurrection and ascension. Remembering these realities should help us chase our doubts away
When it comes to suffering, we sometimes become confused and confounded by unfolding events, thus losing our sense of purpose and passion for living. This is where we need to be reminded that our story is wrapped into the epic saga of the Lamb slain from the creation of the world. Of all the things this story represents, there should be no doubt that it magnifies the magnificent story of God rescuing the perishing through the death of His one and only Son. Knowing that God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us, should clear up all confusion and revive our passion for living for Jesus. This very thought caused the Holy Spirit to move Paul to ask “If God is for us, who can be against us?” So, then, we must not be dismayed whatever comes our way in life. As God has done in the past, He will always do: God will take care you!
When it comes to suffering and God’s saints, when the preceding theology meets reality, there are many appropriate responses. Love certainly fills our hearts and pours forth in thanksgiving and praise. Humility and surrender surely have there place. So, also, there should be a genuine sense of obligation and loving obedience, since our status has been changed from enemies of God worthy of wrath to friends of God, who can and do rejoice our way through the sufferings of this world, becuse our Savior has overcome the world.
My prayer for all who read these lines is that we will be able to overcome the inevitable doubts, confusion, and questions brought on by suffering. The reality that God is not distant from us as we walk through them gives us good reason for hope in spite of suffering, confidence in the midst of suffering, and many reasons for rejoicing as we pass through suffering.
© Bill Williams