Dust 8: Sufferings...

Well thanks for the optimism, jerkface...

ROMANS 5:1-11

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

As a full-blown Four on the Enneagram, I admit without reservation that I love sad movies. The Notebook. Steel Magnolias. Schindler's List. Philadelphia. Angels In America. Dead Poets Society. The list could go on. If it has the potential to make you cry, if it involves one of your favorite, most beloved characters dying, if it contains an idealistic, optimistic scene of reconciliation, then by all means, pour me a glass of wine, put a bowl of popcorn (or a full bag of Dove Dark Chocolate Promises) in front of me, sit back, and whip out the Kleenex. This is not because I enjoy, in some schadenfreude-esque way, watching the heartache of others. It's because seeing their pain reminds me that suffering, heartache, pain — these are universal human experiences. And they suck.

My first response to the passage for today was righteous indignation. "We boast in our sufferings." Bull shit. When Nanny died, when my mom had her car accident, when I was in the hospital for a heart condition, the last thing I wanted to do was boast. I wanted to cry. Wail. Scream. Beat my chest. Hit something. Hit someone. Sometimes I did. And it felt good - getting mad, getting sad, letting my hurt and confusion be just what they were.

I also am aware that the context of what Paul meant by suffering and what I've described above are different. Paul is talking about persecution, being in the minority. Paul is talking about a period in time when being a follower of Jesus was unpopular. He's talking about dying for something you believe in. And while I get the point, while I understand what he's saying, I can't help but think that his message has been co-opted for a different purpose within Christianity, used to diminish the plight of the oppressed and keep the powerful powerful. In another sense, I hear so many of my patients going through the worst shit ever talk about how they are supposed to be happy about their situations because Paul tells us to boast in our sufferings. They feel like they can't get angry with God about their predicaments because it would be ungrateful.

While we were still sinners — I grew up hearing this particular verse as a part of the Romans Road, the series of verses of this letter that are used to lead people to Jesus. When I think about it in that context, there is a particular comfort. I know my own brokenness and shortcomings, and sometimes I can be a complete and total ass. And to know that even in that state of being, Jesus would still take a bullet for me, sit in the electric chair for me, breathe in toxic fumes or endure an injection of potassium chloride for me, well, it's humbling to say the least. But I still can't say that I would boast in that suffering.

**If you want to follow along with the devotional lectionary I’ll be using for this series, you can find it here via Pittsburgh Theological Seminary**

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photo credit:  Chris Jones (via Flickr)