We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)
During seventeen years of alcohol, drugs, a failed marriage, both my grandparents and father dying (the latter after six years of paralysis), struggling with chronic sexual immorality (and all the ill-gotten gains that went with it); I learnt one startling conclusion. I did not enjoy suffering. Whether face down on wet grass, drunk, and wishing I was dead or worrying I had caught HIV, or facing the prospect of another failed relationship; I seemed continually to be in a vicious cycle of suffering. A merry-go-round that was merry for a moment, then always left me feeling sick.
At the time I blamed everyone except myself. In our cross-wired state we do tend to point the finger elsewhere (Gen 3) and then lament that we are the victims. We are never the perpetrator of the crimes we commit. When the Lord Jesus Christ pulled me out of my pit of despair, cleaned me of my spiritual leprosy (Mat 8:1) the above verse from Romans spoke powerfully to me. I had suffered a lot; however, most of it was due to my own sinful nature and the consequences of sin’s punishment.
This type of suffering receives no commendation from God. You suffered due to your wrong behaviour, sin has consequences. The Christian that decides to smoke their whole life and thus develops lung cancer has one person to answer to – themselves. The ‘believer’ who gives a nat and swallows a camel in their lust for material possessions will eventually answer to God.. Hebrews 10:26 lets us know what becomes of those that deliberately continue sinning. 1 Peter 2:18-19 states the obvious -“What is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God”.
When an Apostle such as Paul talks of the perseverance gained from suffering and the character and hope that develops, he refers to suffering for the Gospel. Not suffering for the consequences of sin or ill health or financial hardship or even the loss of a loved one. FF Bruce affirms “If this seems strange to us, let us remind ourselves that in the NT affliction is viewed as the normal experience of a Christian. The apostles warned their converts that ‘we must go through much tribulation to enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22). But affliction and tribulation were not only regarded as an inevitable feature of the Christian lot, they were a sign that God counted those who endured them worthy of His Kingdom”
We all suffer, in one way or another. Atheists die just as readily as Christians. Indian Hindus face the same poverty as Somalian Muslims. Suffering is a part of the fallen life we live in. The real question is, what are you suffering for? The answer, for a follower of Christ at least, should be “For the Gospel, and in this I can rejoice, Christ counts me worthy and therein lies my hope – it’s an eternal hope and its nailed to that cross”.