Paul writes in Romans 5:3-4 that “we know that suffering produces perseverance.” On the face of it, his words seem to make little sense. In my experience, for most people suffering tends to produce quitting.
Our human reaction to trouble sometimes makes about as much sense as the man just hired to a new job. The first day he’s excited, goes about his work with enthusiasm, and heads home happy. Same with the next day. But on the third day, he starts wondering, “You know, I haven’t seen any sign of a paycheck from all this work. I thought I was supposed to be getting paid like fifty thousand dollars a year, but my bank account’s still just as empty as it was three days ago. I check my mailbox every day and there are no checks, just more bills. What gives? Why do I keep coming?” And so he asks himself the same questions the next day and the next. Three weeks go by and still nothing. On the twenty-ninth day of the month he wakes up, looks at his alarm clock, and just shuts it off. “They say I’ll get paid at the end of the month but here it is with only one day left to go and still nothing. No sign of that pay check! Why go on?”
It is so easy for us to become discouraged in life, to imagine that the current struggle is an indication that somehow all our suffering has been pointless. Naaman had to dip himself seven times into the Jordan before his leprosy left him (2 Kings 5). Do you suppose after six dips without a change he was wondering whether there was any point in dipping himself yet again?
Someone once wrote that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. But if you’re pounding on a rock with a sledge hammer trying to break it, what happens if you stop one blow short of making it shatter? What about the Israelites who walked around Jericho over and over and the walls just kept looking as strong as ever? (Joshua 6)
Perseverance in the face of obstacles and trouble and repeated failure is not insanity. Suffering can produce perseverance if we can recognize that suffering is just the road to hope. Suffering is not an end to itself; it’s a journey. Why quit before you reach the goal? Is the goal unworthy?
Remember something else. They don’t build statues to those who say, “It can’t be done,” “it’s not worth it,” or “why don’t you quit?” There aren’t any monuments memorializing Job’s wife who told him “curse God and die” when everything hit rock bottom for him (Job 2:9). They don’t build monuments for those who tried to stop people from being great, who told the struggling artist that “surely you can find something more productive to do with your time.” They don’t name streets after those who don’t take risks.
When the first colonies are built on the moon and distant planets, the only thing that might be named for Senators William Proxmire and Walter Mondale, senators who did everything in their power to try to stop NASA and cut its funding, will be the latrines. Assuming anyone remembers them at all. But cities and statues named after Werner Von Braun, Neil Armstrong and John F. Kennedy will be common, don’t you suppose?
There is no glory for those who play it safe, who always want to be careful, who never risk anything, who quit. God did not call us to an easy life, a life where everything happens quickly and without trouble. If you think God’s will means life runs smoothly and you’ll never hurt, then you’ve not been paying much attention to life or the Bible.