We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. -Romans 5:3-4
The weather is turning a corner and spring is bringing new life and sweet smells to landscapes that looked dead and bleak a few months ago. It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel, or the rainbow after the rain. This is especially true with vaccinations enabling more and more of us to resume activities that have been on pause for more than a year.
And as I walk toward that light, full of hope, I pause for a moment to look back at the fierce storm that was 2020 and reflect upon what it all meant. I’m sure each of us will be doing that, personally and collectively as a country and world – at least I hope so. As a student of history, I very much believe that those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. And being married to a cop and a soldier, I am very aware of the importance and usefulness of ‘after action reports’ to assess what was done right, what was done wrong and how it can be improved for next time.
We should not be in too big a hurry to put 2020 out of our thoughts. Something this momentous and all encompassing – a worldwide pandemic, racial tensions and mass protests, one of the most contentious and uniquely administered elections in American history, record numbers of natural disasters, the sharp rise deadly violence in our cities, increased mass shootings, massive unemployment and business closures that have led to a restructuring of our financial systems and taxes, the revelation of our fragile supply chains, rapidly developed vaccines and mass vaccination efforts, the screeching halt to travel, not to mention the sudden shift to home-based work, school and church and the resulting dependence on the internet – these all merit a lot of consideration and assessment. I can only imagine the lasting, indelible mark this will leave on our world, our nation, our families and ourselves.
I did not live through the Depression and World War II as my parents did, but I could trace the thread of those experiences in their lives. I have, however, seen the incredible changes in our country and lives brought about by 9/11. In many ways life does seem split into before 9/11 and after. 2020 is shaping up in the same manner.
We’ve spent a lot of time hoping for the light at the end of the tunnel, which is absolutely right and good, as is looking to the future. But we can’t forget to consider the tunnel and its lessons. Romans 5:3-4 above reminds us that trials and tribulations serve their purposes in our lives. We should not emerge from them unchanged. Troubles in our lives should produce perseverance, develop character and make us more confidently hopeful of the fulfilment of God’s promises in our lives. Jesus himself warned us that in this world there would be trouble. We can endure the trouble because we know that Jesus has overcome the world.
Suffering - enduring hardship, bigotry, injustice, illness, poverty, unfulfilled dreams and unanswered prayers, etc.- is a training ground for character. It puts us in Jesus’ shoes as he faced scorn, injustice, pain and finally death all without hatred, revenge, despair or anger. It wakes us up to the suffering of others. It makes us compassionate and able to comfort others with the comfort we ourselves received. On a larger scale it reminds us what it is to be human. All humans suffer to some degree and we are united in our sufferings. It is the work of satan to divide and deceive us into thinking that some trials and tribulations are more or less worthy or more or less able to produce character in us. It is in grasping our status as ‘overcomers’ that we begin to live out our Christ-like character in the world.
The process of ‘overcoming’ produces that Christ-like character in us, which is the evidence that our hope of salvation, our trust in God’s promises is not in vain. The Holy Spirit is in us, turning each trial, storm, illness, pandemic, upheaval, economic downturn and moral quandary into fertilizer to produce fruits of the Spirit like patience, compassion, goodness, self-control, love, etc.
We are left to consider what the lessons are on a global level. I have no doubt that God intends to use momentous change of this scale to reorient us in some way, most likely by reminding us that we need to depend on Him, rather than trust in our health, wealth, political systems and infrastructure which can all disappear in an instant without warning. I am reminded of Noah and all the people who lived blissfully unaware of God’s mercy and the possibility of rain until God’s mercy was removed and the rain came and washed them away. The rain was a terrifying disaster, but it also had a cleansing effect and brought about a new era. And the enduring hope of God’s promise lit up the sky in the very first rainbow.
Lord, we know that trials and suffering are a part of life. But we know that You have promised to be with us through them all, and that you will use them to mold us more and more into the image of Christ. Use our pain as fertilizer to grow fruit of the Spirit in our lives for Your glory. Amen.