In An Unhurried Life, I wrote a chapter titled “Suffering: Unexpected Unhurrying.” It’s a hard topic to discuss, let alone live. We’d probably rather that unhurrying happened for us in an island oasis of hope rather than in a dark valley of pain, in a place of refreshment and not a place of hardship.
But some of the ways that the pace of my life has been most deeply transformed into the more unhurried way of Jesus have been in the hard places. I think of these words of wisdom from Paul the apostle about just this dynamic:
“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.” (Romans 5:2b-5)
Paul mentions two reasons for rejoicing. Both are rooted in hope. But this hope is seen from two perspectives.
First, there is a joyful hope that comes as we envision a confident and glorious future. Hope is a confidence in the unseen but certain good that God has prepared for us on the path ahead.
The very idea that we will come to share more and more over time in God’s magnificence and grandeur in more obvious, visible way brightens my perspective. Glorious hope is exciting and envigorating.
But Paul also speaks of rejoicing with hope right in the midst of our sufferings. This isn’t a joy I identify with quite as quickly. Paul says “not only so” in verse 3. Rejoicing in sufferings does not come as naturally as rejoicing in glory.
I have to learn to connect joy and hope in the midst of sufferings. My usual reaction to suffering is usually less noble…something mostly like “Ouch!” and then “Stop it!” I’m still learning to look through the hurt to the hope that lies ahead.
Paul’s words about rejoicing are two perspectives of the same reality. The joy we find in the hope of God’s glory is an anticipated perspective from the path ahead looking back. We rejoice in the transformed person we hope to become by the grace of God.
The joy we can find in suffering is the recognition that the trying and testing places in our journey are producing in us that which we most deeply and truly desire. We rejoice in God’s faithful shaping of our lives, even through painful means
It is suffering lived in dependent trust that produces holy perseverance in us. We learn to live more stable and secure lives by rooting ourselves more deeply in God.
And this perseverance lived as a “long obedience in the same direction” (a phrase drawn from Friedrich Nietzsche and used as a book title by Eugene Peterson) establishes godly character. It is out of this established character of loving dependence on God alone that we find hope in the midst of and as a fruit of the suffering-perseverance-character process.
Of course I rejoice in the hope of sharing in God’s glory—becoming more and more completely like Him, both now and in the future. This is thrilling and exciting.
But sharing in His glory like this does not happen in some automatic or instant fashion. Being transformed into the likeness of His glory involves a process of seeing my character shaped by Him. His most effective tools are the places of pain, of hardship, of suffering that I face along the way.
God loves me overwhelmingly in the midst of such a process. Hope that doesn’t disappoint is hope that has learned to entrust itself and the outcomes into the loving hands of the Father. I have already seen the other side of a few difficult places of my journey so far.
My response has not been to say, “Well, that was sure disappointing. What a waste of time! How meaningless that was!” I’ve been able to offer thanks from an honest heart for the fruit of such places.
I believe suffering produces joy indirectly. I experience joy in the midst of my hardships and sufferings because I know, whether by unseen faith or by reflecting back over my journey so far, that God is causing me to grow in endurance and in solid character.
And here’s the prayer I’ll offer in closing: Thank You, Father, for this text. Enable me to see the joy in the midst of painful crises and the long, sometimes monotonous places I walk through. Enable me to know what to embrace and what to reject. Help me to see You in the midst of all of it. Amen.
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