When we consider God through the lenses of pain and suffering, we can easily drift into two theological categories. First, we can wrongly assume that God is distant and is passively allowing our pain because he is disinterested in us altogether. On the other hand, we might choose to believe that God is angry and is actively punishing us through this specific season of pain.
Learning From Paul
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering. He was repeatedly beaten, shipwrecked and slandered throughout his ministry, so when he considers the idea of suffering – it’s not merely an academic exercise for him. His physical and emotional wounds lead him to offer a third category – one that rejects the premise of both a distant God and an angry God.
Paul begins chapter 5 of Romans by declaring that we now have peace with God (5:1) – there is no more wrath towards us because it has already been directed at Jesus.
Jesus has shielded us from God’s wrath by absorbing it on the cross.
But Paul moves beyond this cosmic, theological truth and begins to unpack the concrete realities of our lives over the next 11 verses. In light of this peace, Paul concludes that suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope (5:3-5). Paul views suffering – not as a byproduct of a neglectful God (a neglectful God could not actively produce anything, let alone something constructive), and not as a punishment from a vengeful God (His wrath has already been dealt with through Jesus) – but as the necessary process of taking Christians from wishful amateurs to veteran believers.
Our Pain Has Purpose
And while this text offers no explanation of the “whys” or “hows” behind our painful circumstances, it does provide the comfort of knowing that our pain is not random or unchecked. Our pain is not meaningless. As much as it hurts and as confusing as it is, we have the knowledge that it is producing something good, it is manufacturing something that simply could not have occurred otherwise.
When Paul wrote Romans, he never intended the Gospel to be an academic idea studied in a lab.
The good news that God is redeeming all things through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is only good news if it is helpful in a real, material world. This means our suffering here actually authenticates our hope – it holds meaning for here and now, not just a hypothetical future.
In a world where suffering comes to us all, hope is an invaluable commodity that the Church should be known for. Because of all people, we are the ones who do not believe in a figurative deity with conceptual attributes and theoretical characteristics. We believe in a God who took on flesh and dwelt among us, we believe in a God who rolled up his sleeves and got his hands dirty. He literally lived, died, and rose again. We are not a people immune to suffering – our Savior certainly wasn’t. And because of that we can rest, knowing that our suffering is not meaningless and our hope is not fabricated.