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.
Poet John Keats endured much suffering and poverty. Just two years before a torturous death from tuberculosis at 25, he wrote to his brother and sister about what life was teaching him: “Call the world if you please, ‘the vale of Soul-making’. Then you will find out the purpose of the world.”
I often wonder about all the undeserved and innocent suffering in the world! Why God? What is its purpose? Is there any? Then I come back to John Keats and his prolonged battle against tuberculosis. His generation frequently spoke of this life as a “vale of tears”. But as Keats suffered in life’s crucible he came to see life not as a “vale of tears” but a “vale of Soul-making”. He thought God was making something of us as we endure suffering. Keats went on in his letter to his brother and sister asking: “Do you not see how necessary a World of pain and troubles is to school an Intelligence to make it a Soul?”
I am also often reminded of the suffering of Nicholas Wolterstorff, racked by his son’s accidental death. Wolterstorff was a committed believer and professor of philosophy at Yale who brooded over his son’s death in the book Lament for A Son. Wolterstorff writes of the consolation to which John Keats also clung: “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.”
Coming now to the scriptural text, we see that the apostle Paul also thinks of life as a vale of soul-making. It is here that souls are heated hot and raised to high temperatures in the crucible of pain and bewilderment. While suffering often leaves us with many questions, Paul says there is one thing we can know: “We also boast in our sufferings, “knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...”. Follow Paul’s thinking here:
SUFFERING -> ENDURANCE -> CHARACTER -> HOPE
Hold on here to Paul’s word “knowing”! We can know that our suffering produces endurance to run the marathon of life. We can know that the endurance will produce character, making us more and more like Jesus. And we can know that character will make us people of hope, of optimism, of bright outlook for the future.
But what about the hope that God is at work through all the suffering; the hope God is making something of us! Will that hope ever disappoint us? To that Paul gives a resounding “No!” Paul says that the hope we have in the midst of life’s suffering will not disappoint “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”
Often as I talk with people enduring much suffering, whether physical, emotional, as well as spiritual, I think of how I can see God at work in their lives. I can imagine posting the sign: GOD AT WORK! In the midst of what can be a vale of tears, God is making souls for this world and the world to come!
A fellow traveler,