Wednesday 25 November
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (verses 3-4)
While for many people this is an inspiring portion of scripture to turn to in hard times, it is also one that is frequently misused! All too often verses such as these have been used to suggest to those who are oppressed that the situation is the work of God, and to seek its end would be to challenge God’s will. Yet the fact that we may learn lessons through hardship, lessons for which we are thankful, does not justify it. God’s desire, as illustrated throughout the Bible, is to liberate people from oppression and suffering, not to inflict it. Hence suffering shouldn’t be glorified nor silently endured.
That said, the testimony of many heroes of the faith demonstrates the power of suffering as a learning environment – from Job to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to those we know personally who have endured trials and found their faith enriched. This nuance is a challenge. If the Christian faith is understood as centring on the pursuit of justice and an end to oppression, it can be difficult to recognise the valuable lessons learnt through hardship. It’s a difficult line to walk, but one we need to navigate if we are to confront injustice without denying the voices of those who speak from an experience of it.
A Catholic friend is fond of encouraging me to ‘enter into the mystery’, and this phrase seems fitting here, as we wrestle with the relationship between suffering and joy, oppression and insight.
† God, help us be open to the lessons learned in suffering, without becoming closed to the pain that births them. May we enter into the mystery – not to find answers, but to find you. Amen