Suffering is a terrible, yet very real, part of our human experience. We tend to put it out of mind until it comes roaring upon us. In 2020, we found ourselves shaken by illness, deaths, economic difficulties, political turmoil, racial division, and relational stress.
Where is God in the midst of this suffering?
In Romans 5:1-5, the apostle Paul gives us perspective on suffering. Even in a fallen world, full of pain, everyone who has peace with God through Jesus Christ can grow to be more like Jesus, the glory of God. The path to this growth is sometimes through suffering.
So that we are not dismayed by this, the apostle Paul gives us “inside information” about suffering. We will still suffer, and it will hurt, but once we understand how God uses suffering, we can rejoice in what God is doing.
In a cyclical pattern of growth (verses 3-5), we first persevere through distress. Even if we are barely hanging on to faith, we persist and, in do doing, we learn endurance. We gain steadiness in trusting God.
This brings us to the next stage, reliable character. We realize we are surviving the distress! We have been put to the test and can sense that our faith is stronger and more consistent.
In a subsequent stage of growth, we settle into a confident hope that God is in control. We trust him to do what he has promised: through the suffering to transform us more fully into the image of Jesus Christ.
In the culminating stage, we realize that we are experiencing the love of Christ, yes, even in suffering. We become bold in praise and thanksgiving. This brings us back to rejoicing, as in verse 2, “and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to [awaken] a deaf world.”
When God shouts to us in our suffering, this "inside information" from the apostle Paul can help us to reframe our experience. Yes, we feel pain and misery. And we could react with resentment and bitterness. Or much better, we can trust that God is working, using the distress as a catalyst for our spiritual growth. By his love and grace, God is molding us into the likeness of his son, Jesus.
This post is a tightly condensed version of the first message in a two-part series by Dr. Harvey Payne on January 10 and 17, 2021. Harvey is a lay leader in the Five Forks Brethren in Christ Church near Waynesboro, PA. A child psychologist by training, Harvey is academic dean of the School of Counseling at Divine Mercy University in Sterling, VA.
The full message, titled “Suffering—Inside Information," is available through the Five Forks website. The second message is condensed in the next BI blog post, "PERMAnant Gains." The second message is also available on the Five Forks website under the title, "PERMA."