"Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." Romans 5:3-4
One week ago another tragedy gashed our nation and shattered us. The bombing in Boston is the latest in a never-ending string of collective and personal tragedies. It overshadows, for a while, everything else. Have we already forgotten about the Newtown shootings? We all must move on in our own way and in the grace God gives us. But we must never forget the lessons we can learn through suffering of any kind.
In one of the most memorable and moving passages in the New Testament, Paul wrote of a kind of "cycle of hope" (see Romans 5:3-4). He believed hope in God through Christ was inexhaustible, and that God transforms all suffering into strength and even greater hope. Paul used three very important words to describe this cycle.
The first is suffering. The word means to crush, press, compress, and squeeze. It is derived from a Greek word that means "to break," and refers to tribulation, trouble, and affliction. Suffering is a fact of human life. It is an uncomfortable echo of the original Breaking, our Fall into sin. God did not create suffering, but the cross stands as His ultimate effort to reverse its effects.
Suffering leads to endurance. This is one of the two great Greek words for patience, and this one refers to bearing up under stressful circumstances (the other word refers to bearing up with stressful people.) Christian endurance refuses to surrender to circumstances or succumb to suffering.
The third word is character, and this is what endurance produces. It refers to something that is proved or has met the criterion of a test. You may have heard it said that "tough times reveal character." While true, the New Testament teaches us that tough times build character, and that is certainly the meaning in Romans. It is simply an uncomfortable fact of life that the only way we grow is through facing pain and refusing to give in.
If you enter into suffering with hope, then you emerge with stronger endurance and character. Of course, this cycle may take a very long and uncomfortable time. What is true physically is also true spiritually, in this case. The pain is usually quick and intense in its coming. The healing is slow.
The great truth of Christianity is that we do not face pain or stress alone. We do not grow character ourselves. We walk with Christ, who walks with us, and He guides us through darkest times with the light of hope. Another tragedy will come, of that we can be sure. But we can also embrace hope, always looking for the eternal dawning of God's light.
Dr. Terry Ellis
April 23, 2013