“Now try to hold still,” coached my dad with a slight rebuke in his voice.
It was time to endure one of the most painful experiences in my memory as a child. Buried in what seemed like inches of skin was a dirty, rotten, good-for-nothing splinter. I couldn’t believe it happened again. Regardless of my resolve to keep wooden shards out of my body, there I was, on my Dad’s lap in the living room, ready for tearful surgery.
“Keep your hand still,” Dad reminded me. I knew he was loving. I knew he was caring. I even knew this needed to be done. But all I could say was:
“But Dad, it hurts!”
After thoroughly defending the grounds of our justification, the Apostle Paul glories in the implications of our justification. He moves from the logical to the practical. The start of Romans chapter 5 rejoices in the peace with God that our justification by faith brings. This new-found unity with God allows us to rejoice in hope (5:2). Surprisingly, we can rejoice in something else, too: suffering (5:3). Why? Because just like our faith, it is a gift from God.
Stop right there.
I don’t like it when my plans fall through. It’s uncomfortable when people don’t like me. It’s heart-wrenching when pain is endlessly around me. I avoid pain and suffering for all it’s worth. So how in the world can we call suffering a gift?
While “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:2), this is by no means automatic. We arrive at that hope because of verses 3-5: “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (5:3-5). Suffering actually enables us to be happily hopeful in God’s plan. Just like our faith, suffering is a gift.
And just like that kid who hated getting splinters out, there was a true difference between what I thought I needed, and what I actually needed.
Lewis famously reasoned, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” The Christian has no need to deny suffering. The comforts that I tend to think I need, are not always correct. There is much to learn from hard times — a glorious mountain vista is not viewed without going through the strenuous climb. Suffering uniquely grows us into Christ-likeness by roads we’d never pick.
Paul is not denying the stomach-turning, tear-inducing, sleep-depriving, horrible feelings that pain can bring. Christians should not take this verse and tell suffering people: “Snap out of it. Come join me in my life devoid of reality, as I skip through endless bright days of white flowers and happy, fluffy animals.” That’s wrong. That’s not life. Read some Psalms.
Rather, Christians should weep now (Romans 12:14) as the time comes. We don’t neglect pain, but we see the point of it: Christ-likeness. This view sees hope that lives outside our current situations and guides our hearts to what our minds should know, God is loving. God is caring. Purposed pain shows us those truths, not fights against them. God knows what we need, and we often do not.
Back to my childhood living room. My Dad would assure me: “I know it hurts, but I need to get it out. It will hurt more if it stays in you.” A good father cares so much about his children that he is willing to bring about pain if it’s for what’s best.
Knowing the comfort, joy, security, and peace that real hope brings, let’s look at pain in this life as the climb to get to the summit of Christ-likeness (Hebrews 12:14). It is the loving hand of God that brings pain and suffering to his children for the sake of holiness. When sheering pain comes, sometimes all we can do is say: “but Dad, it hurts!” That’s okay. Let’s join the prophet Hosea on our knees and rejoice in the sun above the clouds.
“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).