–By Rick Schneider
[Shared, with Rick’s permission, from a letter to Rivendell Institute colleagues]
July 26, 2020
…suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope…
About six months ago, my ALS specialist asked if I would speak at a conference for other ALS patients and physicians. I agreed to speak on “Finding hope in the midst of ALS.“ I wanted to share about Biblical sources of hope in ways that might be enticing even to non-believers with an ALS diagnosis.
Romans 5 seemed like a good place to begin. After all, verse 3 says that “we rejoice in our sufferings.” But I was struck by the strange progression of this passage: suffering > endurance> character > hope. It seemed to me, that it ought to be reversed. Doesn’t hope provide the basis for endurance and character? If the Lord had asked me, that is how I would have written it.
Fortunately, He didn’t ask me. Instead, I’ve had to puzzle about this passage for the last several months. I think I have begun to understand some of the treasure the Lord has buried in these short verses.
First, suffering produces endurance when we lean upon Him and find that His abundance is enough for our needs, especially in the midst of trial. Next, the word “character” in verse 4 comes from the Greek word dokime, which refers to the idea of “proving” the quality of an object. Imagine driving a heavy locomotive over a slender railroad bridge. The bridge’s engineer might have theoretical and mathematical certainty about his construction before the first locomotive rolls across it, but his confidence is only proven when “faith becomes sight.”
Suffering “proves” our faith in the same way. I have seen the Lord provide everything I have needed at the very moment I have needed it. When my legs failed, He provided a mechanized wheelchair. When my lungs failed, a non-invasive ventilator. For the last 40 years I have “known” that God is faithful. But now I have felt the locomotive of ALS slowly and inexorably creep across the slender bridge of my faith.
I have also discovered that whenever the heaviest weight of fear sweeps over me (especially when Satan whispers into my ear that tomorrow will be worse than anything I have yet endured), God Himself reaches ahead just as far as the next “span” and holds me up.
So is it my faith that is proven or God’s faithfulness? When we, by His grace, endure suffering we learn something about God’s faithfulness to us. But we don’t just learn it with our minds, we learn it in our bodies, in our physical selves. And what we learn gives us hope for tomorrow. In a sense, suffering moves our faith from our heads to our hearts. And blossoms into hope.
I have seen over the last year that endurance, character, and even hope are impossible without suffering. That these are fruit of the Spirit that require suffering to be produced.
On top of all of this the Lord has given us verse 5:
“and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Could it possibly be that the love of God has really been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit? We know it has to be true theoretically, but how often do we honestly experience it to be so?
Last week, I heard about a major breakthrough in ALS treatments. I was encouraged to think that maybe this would be the way the Lord might free me from this pestilence. But I also was surprised to realize that my own hope did not seem to waver or change, even after I discovered that the treatment probably would not apply to my own specific type of ALS. And then I realized that this hope within me, that seems to have been produced over this last year, has almost nothing to do with the certainty of my healing, whether that is here or in eternity. Instead, I realized that I am more and more certain that God’s love will still be alive in my heart tomorrow. That is a new sort of hope for me.
Much of my life, I have been amazed at God’s gracious and loving work in saving me, in giving me a wife and family, and working some amazing miracles in our ministry. But I have always been tempted to think that someday, maybe, that love would grow cold. And now I realize that my hope is not in any of these miraculous works or in the history of God’s faithfulness to me, but it really is in the fact that He will be faithful tomorrow. And in every tomorrow after that. No matter what comes along.
So it took suffering to show me that God can bring perseverance and “character” to blossom in hope, but also that my hope can be firmly placed in the certainty that the Spirit will continue to pour out God’s love into my heart—all of our hearts—in each of our tomorrows.
So, why has the Lord given me this gift of ALS? Perhaps because I needed this particular sledgehammer blow to learn this lesson? Someday He will answer all our questions. In the meantime, we all suffer “various trials and tribulations” and He will use them to build us in our love for Him.
Elisabeth Elliott used to define suffering as “having something you don’t want or wanting something you don’t have.” What are those “somethings” in your life? And how is the Lord using them to conform you more to His image? To cause hope to blossom in your heart?
Yours in His Love,