I hate watching people suffer. I hate going into nursing home, hospitals, and other places where suffering and pain are the norm. I hurt when I watch other Christians go through searing emotional pain and loss. I am tempted to ask “why?” I have dear couple in our church who have faithfully served the Lord for decades, and now in their twilight years their bodies are betraying them, and pain is the norm. Another couple who mentored my wife and I in our preparation for full time ministry is going through stage four cancer. Why them? I have walked through the dark valley of two miscarriages with my own wife. Suffering creates some of the greatest challenges to accepting the Christian faith and the God of the Bible.
In Romans 5:1-5, Paul does not explain the existence of suffering-that is a discussion for another time. What he does do is walk the believer through some very big truths that put the suffering experienced in this life into some perspective. Let’s follow his line of thought.
Those who have been justified have peace with God through Jesus Christ (1). This is the big one you need to make sure you get straight! Let’s understand something. Mankind is not naturally at peace with God. In fact, mankind has rebelled against God. We have sinned, gone our own way, done our own thing, and twisted the truth that was ingrained in us at creation. But at Calvary, Jesus Christ does the unthinkable. He takes the wrath of God upon Himself, paying the price for our sins. Those who put their faith completely in the finished work of Christ are no longer called rebels, but sons of God and coheirs with Christ. This brings us something that the world needs badly- peace. Not just the absence of conflict, but true, genuine, lasting peace.
Christ didn’t stop at justification and peace, but also gives us access to unlimited grace to live this life and hope for the future (2). See, salvation is not just about peace with God that guarantees us heaven. It goes way beyond that. This life is hard. Sometimes this life flat out stinks. We need grace. We need grace when we sin. We need grace when things are bad. We need grace when things are good and self-sufficiency is a huge temptation. Flat out, we need grace for daily Christian living, and we need the hope that Christ provides to give a long-term view of things.
Because of these “big picture truths” we can actually rejoice in sufferings because they are not meaningless…they serve a purpose! (3-5). Okay, we have peace with God. We have grace to handle this life, and hope for the future. But we live in a sin-cursed world. Suffering comes. It can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or come in other forms. Paul says rejoice. Read that again. There is no Greek trick here to get us out of it. Realize that Paul is not saying to rejoice for our sufferings. In other words, don’t do a happy dance when your dog dies or your doctor says, “it’s cancer.” That’s ridiculous. Paul says to rejoice in our suffering. In the midst of it, while walking through it. HOW? That’s the million dollar question that Paul just answered. The answer is simple but difficult- keep your gaze (and therefore your meditation, thought processes, focus, etc) on the big picture truths Paul has just reminded us of! But not just that, we can know that our suffering is not pointless.
Because of everything contained in verses 1-2, we can have confidence that all pain and suffering works within the plan of God for our good and His glory (3-5). God doesn’t inflict pain on His people. That’s just not the model we see in the New Testament. However, no one is immune from living in a world that is groaning and awaiting redemption. So, when suffering comes (in whatever form is takes), how should we respond? Rejoice. Why? Because suffering will produce endurance. Endurance is going to build character. Character is going to produce hope. Why can the sufferings of this life (brought on us by our own rebellion against the goodness of God) actually be used by God to advance our walk with Him? Because of the Holy Spirit Who indwells every genuine believer and who constantly reminds us of the love of God that has been poured into us. This is another “big truth” that Paul adds to the list.
We have been justified, we have peace with God. We have grace for living. We have hope for tomorrow. We know that everything happens for a reason, and God is in control, and even when life stinks, He is good. So we don’t waste our trials, knowing that God is working His plan in us to advance His kingdom and His gospel. And we rest in the comforting presence of the member of the Godhead Who is a tangible reflection of God’s love for us in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Doesn’t make suffering easy to bear, but it begins to give us a chance to put it into its proper perspective in the grand scheme of things!