Romans 5:3b & 4 …because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
It was late 2009 that I met a man who introduced me to the lost doctrine of suffering…
How good is your God, good enough to bring you though heart ache or devastation or ridicule, or a Democratic President?
In America we like to complain. We complain about fuel prices, and food prices, and sub-standard education, and preachers that preach into lunch time on Sundays. Until someone posts a picture on Facebook that shows a child suffering in some far off land and we feel bad for a few minutes that we complain about convenience when they have to cope in a world of scarcity. That is until someone cuts us off in traffic and we’re back to our “unfair” existence. “God when’s my next day off?”
Back to Romans- When I examined what it was that I was always complaining about it was my hopelessness. My hope was tied to my wallet if it was full then I was full. If it was empty then I was empty. There were bright spots that I was overlooking, like my incredible wife and kids, and lifelong close friends but the all my failures were wrapped up in my overwhelming sense of doom. When I put that attitude up against this Roman path to hope I decided I had to put my faith for my life and future solidly in the hands of God. I decided He had to be good enough and He was good enough to produce hope in me. I had to embrace suffering and let it lead me through perseverance, character, and on to hope.
It wasn’t so much that I began to suffer but that I forgave Him for all that I had considered to be suffering and opened my eyes to the suffering going on around me. Not to mention the suffering that I could be causing by my lifestyle and preconceived notions about those that didn’t live, act, or believe as I did. I hurt people in distant places by the choices I make at Walmart. I was hurting people by not listening to them when they came to me with a technical question at work. I was hurting people because they believed a different politician had the answer to our societies problems.
I began to live in those places. I “persevered” in the questions. I didn’t shrug them off and make excuses. I wrestled. I still wrestle. Some issues were easy. For some issues I knew I was sitting on the wrong side of the fence. You can tell when you’re on the wrong side of an issue by the anger it produces. If someone said something I didn’t agree with and my bald spot got red and I felt the need to scream and go all Henry Rollins on somebody I realized I cared more about being right than I cared about the person I was yelling/berating/manipulating/screaming out the window at. Tip: If anyone ever asks you, “What are you so angry about?” then that’s a clue to explore your stance on the issue at hand.
In the west its not polite to comment on the strength of your own character but I can tell you how far I’ve come. I care about people. Not all people, there are still a lot that get on my nerves (I won’t name them). But its not the people who live under the bridges near our house like the beggars at the gates of Jerusalem. And its not the people who disagree with “the Bible” because they’ve been beaten with it. Its not people with different color skin or “funny accents” that I’m supposed to treat like second class citizens. I’m starting to see the people that Jesus wanted to be around. Not the ones in clean white robes but the ones in dirty jeans with sun burnt faces. The ones that know life is supposed to be a party. The ones that wear the T-shirts that shouldn’t be funny but really really are. The woman with the pain killer problem that got “tazed” out of a service at a local church last week. The men and women who’ve committed unspeakable acts and live as outcasts because they were victims themselves.
And I have hope. Hope that no matter what happens in this broken world God is still good and will continue the good work He has started. I believe that so much that if it takes my death to bring about a good work in someone else then so be it. I trust that He will take care of my wife and kids and will bring them through. And, if it is death by violence suffered at the hands of evil then I trust my wife will be the instrument of forgiveness to the actual victim of that evil.
The early Christians knew to what they had been called. They were called to bring peace because they followed the Prince of Peace. You may be saying yes but the way of peace just doesn’t work. I’ll tell you that it is not supposed to- it didn’t work for Jesus- they killed him. But the love he showed his captors worked for us because we now see the violence done to him and that he forgave us so much he overcame the grave to return to us. His death created the way for God to flood the earth, the veil was torn to let Him out of the back of the temple and out among us. Jesus paid the price to set God free and He came after us. He uses us to continue the work of Christ on His planet. We fulfill that mission with our willingness to die for our cause but we will not be willing to kill for any cause.