The fifth chapter of Romans begins with a celebration of the peace we have with God through Jesus and “the grace in which we now stand” (v. 1-2). And just when you think it can’t get any better, Paul goes on to speak of how “we boast in hope of the glory of God.” Overall, it’s a rich text that summarizes God’s faithfulness in coming to the rescue of the world through Jesus Christ. And it’s full of assurance and the kind of passage that you could see adorning a wall, someone writing a song about, or being something you would want to commit to memory.
Then Paul adds, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings” (v. 3).
And with that he’s gone too far—he’s stopped preaching and started meddling. He’s intruded on the American dream of “happily ever after.” And although that dream takes different forms for different people—suffering isn’t a part of any of them. With few exceptions, our prayers are flooded with requests not for strength to bear it nobly but for immediate deliverance. We know about Jacob’s limp, Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and the kinds of things our first century family went through, but that’s in the same category as the apostles performing miracles, people speaking in tongues or being visited by angels, isn’t it? And if we are now at peace with God—why would He allow suffering to be a part of our lives?
Suffice it to say that Paul’s take is on suffering much different than ours. He considers it from a developmental standpoint. It produces perseverance, character and hope. For Paul then, what starts off as suffering ends up as hope. That’s pretty powerful when you think about it. It’s not that we are without hope when there is no suffering, but it’s not hard to see how the presence of suffering brings with it the opportunity to grow in hope.
And hope does put us to shame in our suffering (as though we were being punished—something the ancients often assumed), because the Spirit’s in our lives is proof of His love. For Paul the indicator of God’s love isn’t the absence of pain or discomfort—it’s the presence of the Spirit. We would do well to remember this and remind each other of this when suffering comes out way.
That’s why for Paul the last word isn’t suffering or even the hope that is produced by it—it’s glory. Glory is one of the major themes of this section (chapters 5-8). After speaking of how we share in Jesus’ sufferings in order that we might share in His glory, Paul will note how “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (8:18). That is how things look in the new world that God has brought through Jesus. May we embrace this “glory ever after” perspective in every aspect of our lives.