Pain, suffering, and grief touch us all at some time during our lives. The worldview we hold in dorm room bull sessions or philosophy classes faces the crucible of reality that tests the theory’s strength when the generality dubbed suffering invades us personally, repeatedly.
When I entered Houghton College, I relished a fresh start. Polio and back surgery had hospitalized me for almost two of my 18 years. My new Brooklyn friend Rosemarie, youngest of eight children born to German immigrants, had somehow gotten through public school without the polio vaccine. As she and I went through freshman physicals, she received her polio shot but assured the campus doctor,”Don’t worry about her; she’s had the disease.”
Other than a week in the infirmary my freshman year, a room change from third floor down to first that allowed me to avoid stairs, and the requirement that I take “adaptive phys ed,” I had four healthy years. Despite having read C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain during my infirmary stay, I still had some simplistic ideas of pain and suffering. Before Dave and I married in the summer of ’68, we had talked about polio, and I had told him that due to the more than 100 full-body x-rays I’d received prior to my back surgery, chances were we wouldn’t have children. Yet, 5 1/2 years later I gave birth to our first son. A second son completed our family 2 1/2 years later. Dr. Bryan Wolfe and Dr. Brent Wolfe. 12/24/17
While Dave and I awaited Bryan’s birth, my dad died of brain cancer. It came as my personal introduction to grief. Those Bible verses I’d learned in 1960 supported me, despite the difficult pregnancy. I began to meditate on Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
With grief raw, I first looked at the progression of the things suffering produced. How else could I begin to understand rejoicing in suffering?
Endurance and I had a fledgling kinship that dated back to my recovering from disease and surgery. Character, definitely a Holy Spirit work in progress within me, included times of spiritual zeal along with some major flaws and potholes. But why did hope conclude the list?
I looked first at endurance, and Romans 15:4-5 assured me that God gives endurance and encouragement by the things written in scripture, and by individuals following Christ. I stopped visualizing endurance as pushing through exercises with gritted teeth. Paul coupled endurance with encouragement, pointing to hope and unity. In 2 Corinthians, Paul linked endurance to acquiring patience, along with trusting the sovereignty of God in distress and hardship. But it was Colossians 1:11 that connected endurance and patience with “joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints.” With that verse, my myopic vision sharpened like the Gran Telescopic Canarias. There was a connection between endurance and joy.
Thoughtful reader, I don’t know how you pick up the pieces and continue to survive and even, dare we think, thrive, after pain, suffering and grief have leveled you. But as I continue to ponder endurance, character, and hope, I grasp more of Jesus as the One who gives meaning to suffering.