After I read these, I can’t help but feel a little sad. How are we supposed to feel, given that our family’s lives aren’t exactly fairy tales? Part of me wishes that we did have that much to boast about to my family and friends. But life is no fairy tale.
Today, our second lesson comes to us as part of one of the many letters written by the Apostle Paul. In fact, much of the New Testament consists of letters written by Paul’s own hand. And today, we find Paul writing something absolutely stunning: he says “we [Christians] boast in our sufferings.”
This has to be one of the most outrageous sayings of all the New Testament.
For starters, we were taught from childhood never to boast—because when we boast, it’s usually of our own “greatness.” It’s a way of getting an undue measure of other people’s admiration and acclamation.
But one thing we can say about Paul is that he was no stranger to suffering. Throughout his ministry, he suffered beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, and bitter hatred.
So why would he would boast of his suffering? Are we to think that Paul has some kind of ego problem? Or is Paul actually embracing his suffering and calling it “good?”
Consider the people in Oklahoma who lost everything in the tornadoes. There is certainly nothing to boast of in this tragedy. Think of the families of the ten children that perished at Plaza Towers Elementary School. It’s outrageous to think that any silver lining is going to be found in a tragedy of this magnitude.
It is in times like these when faith can feel as fragile as the homes and schools swept away by the tornadoes. But Paul is not teaching us to call “good” what is horrible. Instead, Paul is testifying to the God who embraces is in our suffering. God as Father, Son, and Spirit embraces us in our weak and sinful and helpless condition, acting in mercy and might to redeem us from death and the devil. Paul teaches that if there is anything to boast, even in the worst of times, it is not our own strength, our own wit, or our own faith… It is the ministry of the Trinity upon which we boast.
We have peace with God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, because Jesus Christ made us right with God by sacrificing himself for our sake. In Christ, we are at peace with the God who holds the universe; all time, all things in hand—even amid the chaos of the present days.
Amid the storms, as we endure the sting of suffering, the Trinity acts on our behalf. That is what we boast; not ourselves, but of the redeeming work of God. God fights back against the power of evil with the power of the Spirit, who works through the suffering to produce in us endurance, and then character, and then hope. And it is hope that sustains us even in the worst of times—for it is hope that assures us that suffering will last only for a time, and that death and evil will never have the last word over God.
It is God the Holy Spirit who then gives us faith to witness the saving work Jesus Christ still being done. When all around and above us is in trouble; when we are hated and despised, crushed and broken, we rest by faith in the communion of our Triune God.
I wish I could stand here and explain to you the mysteries of how there can be One God in Three Persons; just as much as I wish I could explain the reasons why bad things happen, and why some people’s prayers are answered and others are not. I can only testify to the ministry of the Triune God, spoken to us in God’s Word. God will not always be the God we want or the God we can understand. But the Trinity will be the God we need—and the God whose love and care we will receive through faith.
If you need a God who brings life out of death, you are invited to come and meet your God of mercy, majesty, and might. Believe in God, trust in God, obey God—and you will know the truth. What it requires of you is that you participate in the life of the Trinity. There are no substitutes for prayer; for hearing and knowing the Word; for eating and drinking the body of Christ; for serving others and bearing witness to the Trinity’s work on our behalf.
Our faith is no fairy tale. It is the greatest truth of the universe. You, too, will boast of the ministry of the Trinity in your life, bearing witness in word and deed to the hope of all creation.