The apostle Paul writes in about suffering in our Epistle lesson for this Sunday: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 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. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 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. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10 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! 11 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)
There are a number of distinct thoughts in this text that provide endless material for our meditation:
· Justification through faith
· The blessings and growth that God gives through hardships
· Mankind’s complete helplessness before God
· The joy and confidence that salvation brings
We often speak of our “Lenten journeys” as we follow a six week path to Jesus’ cross. It’s easy for a cynical part of ourselves to view that as a bit of a charade (“Ok, we’re in Lent now. Time to stop singing Alleluia and act a little more somber…”). But this text from Romans adds some very practical depth to the real and meaningful journey that God takes us through for our growth and blessing.
There is such a strong paradox in the first few verses that we might be so accustomed to that we’re hardly shocked by it. But we should be. We have every reason to boast in the hope of the glory of God. We are truly loved and forgiven as God’s children! So what does God bring to us? Suffering! Doesn’t it shock you?
It shocks the people in the pew – even if they don’t always admit it. It’s such a natural part of ourselves to regard suffering as a punishment, a rebuke, a curse, a sign of God’s active disapproval or passive neglect of us. But it isn’t. It is something he uses for us in love. It’s hard for us to see this at times – admittedly, we can’t say how and why God is using each and every case of suffering. But God does talk about his intended outcome, and we shouldn’t hesitate to talk about it either.
Verses 1-2 assures of God’s love. We get our hands dirty with verses 3-5. We commit ourselves to struggling. We can’t answer every question about suffering, but we can focus on the answer God provides. We are together on a journey, with so many painful and tear-filled mile markers. For those at the beginning, we are assured of where God is leading us. For those near the end, we shed any bitterness and rejoice in the hope we hold on to. As Paul did, we show our salvation not simply in Christ’s dying, but in his living, for he walked the path of suffering perfectly.