“Through [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” ~Romans 5:2-5
What on earth could the Apostle Paul mean by rejoicing in our sufferings? Are we to welcome all heartbreak as gifts; to put a Sunday smile on all sorrow? By no means! Paul himself prayed repeatedly that God would remove a particular “thorn in his side.” He came to discover the grace of God as sufficient for him, as God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
The Bible speaks of many sources of our suffering. Much of our sorrow comes directly from our own sinful nature and the suffering we invite upon ourselves and one another. Other sorrows – like Paul’s thorn – are sent by the Devil, in order to torment us. Martin Luther writes about a kind of suffering that comes from God’s severity and another kind from God’s kindness. “The Lord disciplines the one He loves and chastises everyone He receives as Son” (Hebrews 12:6).
Jesus is quite clear that his disciples will suffer persecution “for my name’s sake.” Ultimately, the Bible is less interested in accounting for the source and potential reason behind each kind of sorrow and more intent on proclaiming what the God made known in Jesus Christ has done and is doing in the midst of suffering. In Jesus, God has entered the human experience of suffering unto death. Jesus prayed in the garden for his cup of suffering to pass, if only it be the Father’s will, and the cup was not removed. Jesus cried from the cross to the God who had seemingly forsaken him. On the third day, Jesus and his disciples reunited on the other side of sorrow, but the scars remained on his body and in their memory. What the Gospel gives us is not a “happy” Easter, but a JOY rising from a Friday called Good by an unworldly logic.
Beloved author and Lutheran pastor, Walter Wangerin, writes in his Lenten devotional, Reliving the Passion,
“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope—and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend upon it) disappoint us.”
Brothers and sisters, we gather during Holy Week to worship, to remember, and to be repented by God for the reception of unashamed hope and immeasurable love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!
Peace and Joy,