Suffering, Paul says (so does James), unfolds like an origami:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Sometimes it just bugs me the way Christians respond to sufferings. Instead of being pain they see their way through because of God, they become stiff Stoics. Unemotional. Almost happy about what has happened. One of the more painful moments of my life, at least when I was young, was when I had to have knee surgery as a high school senior and it wrecked my basketball and high jumping hopes. Well, I got over it and I learned a ton through that, but it was not fun watching everyone else play when I was all stiff-jointed. (This was the days just before arthroscopy. They flayed my knee wide open. Long and winding scar.) I did learn character and that sort of thing, but I sure as heck didn’t jump and down when it happened with a bundle of fresh positive thinking skills.
The only reason Paul can call something suffering is because folks are suffering. That means pain. But, pain, when one goes through it, opens up all kinds of things for us. There is a connection, so I’m suggesting, between the pain and the aftermath of growth, which aftermath is not really found if the pain is not experienced. I think you know what I’m talking about. I once had a friend who had some rare disease that could have killed him and he told me like it was “well, if this happens then I die” and he had no emotion, and then had the audacity to pretend that he had resigned to God’s will … and I wanted to slap him in the heart to see if he had one … well, you may know what I’m talking about.
We rejoice, Paul says, in our hope and in our sufferings.
Now we need to move on in this text to what happens beyond the suffering.
Why? This is not morbidity but insight into what sufferings do. They unfold, like an origami, into perseverance and character and then right back to where we began: hope.
Hope, Rom 5:5 establishes, is sustained by the Holy Spirit who indwells God’s people. This sustained hope is “love.” Love, in fact, is the evidence of hope.
Is this our love for God (objective) or God’s love for us (subjective). Some use the heavy stick on this one and make folks feel guilty for thinking this just might be about our love for God, but the context always rules and it is not altogether clear so no one should get pushy and shovy about this. “Loving God” is something Paul reminded himself of every dadburn day: it is how the Jew begins the day when he or she recites the Shema a few times each day. (I just recited it myself … ahavta eth Adonai Eloheka b….) Wright thinks the context favors “our love of God.” Others disagree.
But, avoid the sloppy thinking that says this: “Well, if Tom Wright and the big-bobs of scholarship can’t agree, then maybe it means both.” Double entendre needs to be demonstrated; it is not a default position for when we can’t decide. Ambiguity is always better than double entendre; how many of us use double entendre in the normal spin of conversation? Rare. Sorry for that heavy-handed hermeneutical blow to finish this off.
Let me finish it with this: suffering’s pain leads us to perserverance and then on to develop character and hope. Hope is sustained by love.