….We have obtained access to his grace in which we stand. Romans 5:1-5
Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans is a challenge, not only in its construction and writing, but in our understanding of what it means to us today. Boasting about suffering which produces endurance?? What does that mean in a hurting world? How are we to grasp hope?
Scholars have gone round and round on the intention of these words over the years. It is good to bear in mind that Paul was addressing the Christian believers in Rome who were risking punishment for the pursuit of their faith. Scholars suggest that the suffering Paul refers to is that which arrives as a result of a faith commitment. Taking a stand in faith has posed risks down through the centuries and while life tosses us many wounds, it is instructive to remember what Paul is talking about. The dangers and inherent suffering of taking a stand, a posture of commitment to God in a world opposed to that faith. How to endure those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, is what is behind Paul’s letter. How to stand firm in the grace given through the difficulties.
It would seem though that today, we too are in a position to experience suffering as a result of our faith journey and from life in general. As Michael King writes in The Christian Century,
Many of us experience both types of suffering and find that each produces endurance, which yields character. Suffering of any kind, endured with integrity, humbles (yet) ennobles us
Wow this is tough stuff. Are we to infer that unless you suffer, you cannot understand or experience hope? The more suffering, the more hope and love you will receive. Hmm that does not seems logical or inviting or of Christ.
I have some facetious questions in my mind to ask God when I see her. Why are there slugs in my garden? What to make of mosquitoes and their diseases? Oh and by the way why is there any suffering at all visited upon anyone ? Can’t you figure out a world better than that? You have been at this for quite a while now!
Needless to say, I do not expect any answers let alone to pose the questions, but I still wonder. I have been blessed in my life. I was quite sickly as a child and major surgery corrected some health issues all before I was 12. I do not recall suffering in that classic sense, in fact as an only child, my woes became a doorway for even more attention and self-centered behavior and the dangers of becoming a spoiled brat.
But that ended at a certain point and I went on to have a full joyful life. Perhaps that early taste of discomfort allowed me to cut some slack to later issues and not get bogged down. Another way of looking at it might be I acquired some character and hope, developed a life of faith without consciously realizing it and received the grace of God to keep going.
In 1995 our son-in-law of three years was diagnosed with acute leukemia. This was stunning news for all of us and the alarm bells started clanging immediately. I remember storming around the house yelling at God to stop this nonsense and send me the travail not Scott. ? I am older, I have done things, inflict me!! At 27 he had so much life to live with our daughter, what on earth was God thinking? I am sure you would have had the same reaction. Well, prayers were answered in the wonderful protocol of healing at John’s Hopkins and by the end of six months of drastic treatment he was and is in remission. Many of you have similar stories about illness ; some have experienced sadder outcomes. Not unlike the stages of grief, we have to process the pain and anger, negotiate and finally accept what has come our way. But it is not easy.
In my small brush with suffering, it was initially hard to grasp what I was to learn from the event? What was the point of this torment? I do not think that God deliberately and purposefully sends us these messages of despair. In fact, I am sure that God is just as upset as we are by the turns of events that our life of free will creates. Disease and suffering and healing and life are part of the whole package we have before us.
Perhaps part of what Paul is telling us is that any suffering can be a means of connecting to the Holy Spirit. To what can we look for help and guidance? Here again Paul straightens it all out in two words. Jesus Christ. Those words are all we need to know to be able to reach out to God and receive his mercy. It is in the example of Christ that we can find our life’s guidebook.
In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has given us his grace, the mercy of God, available to all who believe. One writer clarifies it in this way “ It is not that we use Jesus to attain God’s mercy, it is that God sends Jesus to enact the mercy that God has intended from the beginning of time.”1
What can keep us going in the face of any adversity is God’s love. Paul will later write in his letter to the Corinthians, about the three attributes of faith, hope and love..” the greatest of these is love.” God’s love is shown to us amply in the form of Jesus his son who died for all ,not just the good and faithful, but for all of us, broken and unsure, rock solid in our faith or just barely hanging on. This constant flow of love from God energizes our hope, hope attained through suffering because we are not alone.
It would seem that in that moment of torment is where Grace can step in, remind us of how much God loves us and wants us to be whole again, we can actually taste God’s love for us, that breathing space can create a moment of endurance, then an hour of hope and often a life of faith.
On this Trinity Sunday, where we celebrate the union of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, it is good to remind ourselves how omnipresent God’s love is to us. That grace in which we stand.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.