“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.”
Romans 5:3-5

The esteemed English poet John Keats was tempered in youth by poverty and suffering.  Just two years before his death at age 25 from tuberculosis, he wrote to his brother and sister what he was learning about life:  “Call the world if you please, ‘the vale of Soul-making’.  Then you will find out the purpose of the world.”

I write as one who often wonders about the purpose of things, of suffering and trouble.  I often go back to Keats’ turn of phrase and insight about “the vale of Soul-making”.   His generation spoke of life as “the vale of tears”.  But Keats rejected viewing life as a vale of tears, preferring to think of it as “the vale of Soul-making”.  He believed that God was up to something in our hardships and trials!  Keats continued in his letter to his brother and sister: “Do you not see how necessary a World of pain and troubles is to school an Intelligence to make it a Soul?”

Often as a pastor and chaplain I have sat with people in pain and perplexity, mindful that I was watching Soul-making.  Nicholas Wolterstorff is Emeritus Professor of Philosopher at Yale, and also a griever of his son’s death.  In his tender book Lament for a Son, Wolterstorff writes of wisdom learned beyond his philosopher’s study: “In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed.  But there also character is made.  The valley of suffering is also the vale of soul-making.”

In today’s Scripture the apostle Paul looks at life as a vale of Soul-making, that place where souls are hotly hammered out and forged.  While life often leaves unanswered questions, Paul says there is something we can know: knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”   I find it helpful to follow Paul’s chain of thought:

suffering ? endurance ? character ? hope

We dare not miss the word “knowing” in Paul’s thought processes.  Here is something we can “know”, latch our minds on, and hang on!  We can “know” that our suffering produces endurance, our endurance produces character, and our character produces hope!   We can put up signs saying “GOD AT WORK!” and step back and watch!  Souls are being made!

So, what is it that suffering is accomplishing in our souls?  First, Paul says, it is accomplishing “endurance”.  Endurance is a translation of the Greek hupomone, which “means the spirit which does not passively endure but which actively overcomes the trials and tribulations of life”. (William Barclay, Daily Study Bible)   Then, this active endurance produces “character” (Greek, dokime), which was used of gold passed through fire to purge out all of its impurities.  And that character produces “hope”, which is actually stronger for having been tempered in the fires of suffering.  That’s why the most hopeful people you will ever meet are those who have truly suffered.

And our hope in God for all of this will not “disappoint”, Paul adds, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”   You will never be disappointed for hoping in God!  He is Soul-making for this life, and the life to come!

Grace and peace,


Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion…’ So God created humankind in his image.
Genesis 1:26-27

Lord Mountbatten was the last viceroy sent by the British Crown to rule India half a world away.  He was the uncle […]

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On July 13, 2015 By

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there […]

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On July 6, 2015 By

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
I Corinthians 13:11

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On June 29, 2015 By

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23

It might seem strange that a […]

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On June 22, 2015 By

Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the tent of meeting.  Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp.
Exodus 33:7

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On June 15, 2015 By

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On June 8, 2015 By

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it.  For then you shall be successful.                                                                                                                       Joshua 1:8-9

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On June 1, 2015 By

‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone […]

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Praise the LORD, all you nations!
Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love towards us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.
Praise the LORD!
Psalm 117

Ask people what they believe and most will likely tell you what they […]

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