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THE VALE OF SOUL-MAKING

THE VALE OF SOUL-MAKING

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 God that has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

John Keats was an English Romantic poet whose brief life was tempered by great heartbreak and suffering. Just two years before his death from tuberculosis at age 25 he wrote to his brother and sister: “Call the world if you please, ‘the vale of Soul-making’. Then you will find out the use of the world.”

As one who struggles with wanting to know purpose and to understand “Why?”, I am drawn to Keats’ idea that this world is a vale of Soul-making. He helps me to understand that there is something bigger going on than we could imagine, something transcendent and wondrous. Keats was part of a generation that had decided the world was “the vale of tears.” But Keats did not see it that way. Keats asks rhetorically: “Do you not see how necessary a World of pain and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?”

Nicholas Wolterstorff is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Yale; in his book, Lament for A Son, he tenderly chronicles his grief for his son’s death. He tells of struggles with questions, sorrows and sadness, yet writes about something happening within him: “In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also character is made. The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making.”

In today’s Scripture the apostle Paul tells of this world as a vale of Soul-making in which character is forged. There are many things we do not know, but there is something we do know in our sufferings: “knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…

I like to visualize the process Paul describes in these verses:

suffering ? endurance ? character ? hope

We can know, we can be sure that in the vale of Soul-making our suffering is accomplishing something for us — endurance. And that growing endurance is shaping character, and that character is igniting hope. Whatever it is that you are going through, or growing through, you can put a sign over your life saying: “GOD AT WORK!”

The apostle Paul shows how in this vale of Soul-making our suffering is producing “endurance”. That is a translation of the Greek hupmone that speaks of “the spirit which does not passively endure but actively overcomes the trials and tribulations of life.” (William Barclay, Daily Bible Study).

Then, that active endurance in you is achieving character, that for which your parents hoped and prayed for in you. Character! That character is a translation of the Greek dokime that speaks of pure gold passed through the fire purging impurities. And the longed-for character generates hope. Rather than extinguishing hope, our sufferings actually produce it. The great apostle Paul notes that we will never be disappointed for hoping in God: “and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit God that has been given to us.” God will not disappoint you as you hope in Him!

In C. S. Lewis children’s novel, The Final Battle, he imagines us beyond the vale of Soul-making transported into the fulfillment of all our hope. The children in his final story represent you and me as we are ushered into God’s life and glory

All their life in this world…has only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever and in every chapter is better than the one before.

The world often tells us that we journey through a vale of tears. But our faith tells us that this is the vale of Soul-making. God is accomplishing something eternal in you today.

Grace and peace,
Tim

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