We’re nearing the end of the book, and it seems that the challenges are just beginning. Good Christian books don’t affirm us in our pre-existent beliefs and comfortable lives; they shake us up and change us. This book is not a comfortable read. It’s a good read, because Paul’s teaching the Bible faithfully. He shows us in this section the uncomfortable parts of the Bible. He’s right; we don’t feel like we should point out to a sufferer that there might be sinfulness in their response to suffering. Happily, it’s not our opinion; it’s what the Bible says to sufferers. Therefore, Romans 12 is a challenge!
How do we rebuke the weary faithful? Preferably we tell it to ourselves and to each other while life isn’t that bad, and we embed it in our souls and cling to it in the tough times ahead. It’s a powerful message. Difficulties don’t excuse ungodliness. I know I tend to cut myself some slack at just those times. I know that I tend to think sinning is an effective short-term method to ease the sense of suffering. I hadn’t seen the choice so starkly before. Do I stick with Jesus or walk in the way of comfort? Once again I’m reminded that I don’t take sin seriously enough, and I don’t treasure what’s produced by godly suffering enough. I still need to work at seeing that my faith is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1). Then I will see suffering as a gift.
In chapter 8 Paul’s acute sense of a neat argument makes him identify this chapter as one that doesn’t fit. I’m not so sure that it sticks out all that much! Isn’t this the weariness that Romans 12 talks about? We’re not worn down in our context by much blatant persecution but by the smaller and yet equally powerful struggle of being Christian in Australia today. Wasn’t this covered in chapters 5 and 6? I identified with all of this! The temptation to get bitter when loved ones aren’t getting converted according to my timetable. The sadness of seeing the world through God’s eyes, especially the distress of sin, seeing unbelievers missing out on the good life, and believers disappointing God. It is a heaviness, but Romans 11 exhorts us to trust God, who of course knows what he’s doing. This chapter fits!!
Finally, while chapters 7 and 8 exhort us to avoid sinning in the face of suffering, chapter 9 spurs us on to act rightly as we suffer, praising God, expressing our emotions, declaring that God is good, and ultimately doing good while waiting for heaven’s release. This is just as challenging as examining our response to suffering for sinful attitudes and behaviours. Just as it’s tempting to default to self-preservation in sinfulness, it’s very difficult to keep the outward focus in times of hardship (for some of us anyway). That’s why this book is vital as a guide for solid preparation for times of suffering. And no doubt a comforting reminder to stay on track when you’re in the eye of the storm. But don’t look at it for answers when you’re hit between the eyes. That won’t be the point for feeling the challenge. Meanwhile, I think 1 Peter 4:19 should be my memory verse for the month:
So those who suffer according to God’s will should, while doing what is good, entrust themselves to a faithful Creator.