Monday, October 16

It Comes at Great Cost

September and October are bad months for me. There are reasons for it, but I'm not going to go into them here. All you need to know is that for the past five years or so, these months have been difficult ones; and not just difficult in the slightly peevish sense, but difficult in the suffering sense. Oh, it's not as much suffering as many people have--not as much suffering, for instance, as those who live under the constant threat of deadly persecution--but still, I have no trouble labeling it as true suffering.

After five years, I've come to expect it, and after five years, I know the bad spell is temporary. While knowing that helps a lot, it still doesn't mean that for these two months, give or take a few days here and there, my life isn't a struggle. I've also learned that there is a preciousness to the experience of suffering. The believer who is struggling with difficulties learns the bottom line: There is only one Rock, only One who can be completely counted on. It is in trials that we know, more than at any other time, "how sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear."

It's been a few years, yet here is something that I first understood yesterday: this preciousness (or we might call it joy!) in my experience of suffering is a benefit that comes to me through Christ's death on my behalf. This is not my own thought--I read it in Romans 5--but this is the first time I've put it all together exactly like this. Here's the passage:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5: 1-5 ESV)
There are several things listed in this passage that come to us through Christ's work. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we have peace with God, access into the grace we stand in, "joy in hope of the glory of God", and we also have joy in suffering. Joy in suffering comes because, through Christ, our suffering has a good purpose: it is part of a process that produces good things in us, and the end of that process is hope.

Our tribulations produce a growing understanding of the firmness of our hope, which comes through our experience of persevering through difficulty and a sense that we are developing proven character. Our difficulties are used for our sanctification, and this increasing sanctification gives us confidence that our faith is genuine and that our right standing with God is real. Our affliction "is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV)"

I've written before about suffering being a gift because it is something that comes to us for God's own good purposes. I've understood for quite a while. What I hadn't really thought about is that this good gift comes to us at great cost to Christ himself, because it's one of the benefits that comes to us through his death and resurrection. That suffering is not simply something that brings heartache, despair, or anger at God for not keeping it from me is a fruit of my redemption. The good results that come from my suffering are something for which a great price was paid, and they are, therefore, something that I ought to hold in high regard.

I'm ashamed to admit that I've been doing more than my fair share of wallowing this time round. After all, I know by now that this is hole is temporary; if I wait things out, the difficult times will go away. I was, you might say, wasting my affliction: waiting, rather than clinging; passing time, rather than enduring; frittering away what was given to me at the cost of the life of the Son of God.

It's funny--in a counterintuitive sort of way--that realizing this is the beginning of the way out of the hole. It's the start of finding the joy in suffering.

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