My Hope in Tribulation

This week, singleness has sucked.

It’s been full of temptation, failure to resist temptation, and sadness. It’s been hard to find anything to be thankful for. I went back and read some of my old posts and thought, Did I write those? They are WAY too optimistic about Jesus.

It’s been one of those weeks where I’m just done with being single. I’m DONE. Yet, throwing in the towel of singleness just adds to the dirty laundry; it doesn’t actually make the towel go away.

Most of me loves having an engaged roommate with a wedding to plan; most of me loves seeing pictures of friends’ kids, most of me loves hearing about honeymoons and midwife appointments and adoption updates. But the part of me that doesn’t has made it hard to find joy in those things this week.

I read Romans 5 last Friday, and I’ve been processing it and re-reading it for several days. Here’s the blurb I keep coming back to:

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:  By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Basically, the author (Paul) is saying that there are two places to find my joy/glory/strength: the Gospel and tribulation.

I’ve told the story of the Gospel almost every week for the past 10 months or so, and it never gets old. It’s basically this: Humans got ourselves into a pickle because the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) decided to disobey God (they sinned). Because of their disobedience, all humans of all time have been unable to be good (holy, righteous, godly) enough to make God happy with us in this life, or let us into heaven in the afterlife.

God knew we would never do enough good-enough things to get to heaven. His requirement for us to be able to be His friends? A perfect life (which no one can live). Barring that, He requires the sacrifice of a perfect being in order to pay for our sins, to serve as a substitution for us.

Humans used to sacrifice their lambs, oxen, birds, etc. to pay for their sins, but the animals were only barely good enough to take care of past sins. What we needed was a person to come live a perfect life and stand in place of humanity. So God, having mercy on us, sent His only Son (Jesus) to be that perfect human.

Jesus, as God, was perfect. So Jesus, as human, was perfect. He lived without ever sinning (disobeying or displeasing God); at the end of His life, He was sacrificed in a Roman execution on a cross even though He was innocent; at the end of His death, He rose from the dead and stayed on earth for a few more weeks before rising up to heaven to be back with God forever.

This is good news for us because

  1. He lived a perfect life for us.
  2. He died a death for us – in our place.
  3. He stands in our place before God, so when we get to heaven, we can say, “I’m not good enough, but Jesus is.” And He can say to His Father, “This one is mine. I paid for her/him with my life and death and resurrection.”

Of course I can glory in this! Of course this story brings me joy! I have no problem saying, “This! This is what I live and die and breathe and blog for.” Not only does Jesus provide a way for me to get to heaven, He also provides a way for me to know Him now – on earth.

And that’s what brings me to the second thing Paul says to find my glory/joy in: tribulation (which is basically just a fancy word for “hard times”). Paul says, “tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope”.

My first thought when I read this was, tribulation brings…good things? I mean, I know it does, and I’ve blogged about it before, but it just struck me as so unusual this week. If it were up to me, hard times would drive me to cynicism, not patience; experience would drive me to despair, not hope. And yet, Paul says that for me, as a Christian, the opposite is true. Hard times lead me to hope.

How? Well, Paul answers that question in the next few verses. He talks about how if I were a reeeeealllllly good person, I MIGHT be able to talk another reeeeeaallllly selfless person into dying for me. BUT, Jesus looked at me, saw a person in utter sin, and said, “Yep, I’ll die for her.”

I, in and of my own sinful self, faced the greatest hardship of all: being unable to claw myself high enough on the “good enough” scale for God to want to accept me as His own. Yet Jesus said, “Never mind. I got this tribulation. I’ll take care of it.” And then He did.

This week, my tribulation has been singleness, and it’s been a good reminder how much I need Jesus in this life, not just in the next one. When I was tempted to sin (to think bitter thoughts about my situation, to be unthankful because I don’t have what I want, to fantasize about what it would be like to wake up next to a man or FINALLY get my first kiss, to put my hope in a future wedding or pregnancy) – every single time I caught myself, it was a reminder to run to Jesus in prayer.

Every time I got fed up with MORE waiting, it was a reminder to run to Him. Every time my hormones were like, “I’m over here! Just get pregnant already!” it was a reminder to run to Him. Heck, every time I failed to run to Jesus, it was a reminder to run to Him.

Jesus knew temptation and tribulation centuries before I was even born. This means He already knows what I’m going through; but it also means that I get to know on some level what He went through. In my hard times, I get to know Jesus better, and I don’t even have to wait until I die.

There were moments this week where I thought, Okay, I know singleness won’t be hard forever, and I know it won’t last forever. Someday, it’s going to end at the altar or at the pearly gates. But that thought would frustrate me. I might have to wait for DEATH for singleness to get easier?!

But that’s when I noticed that I was not focusing on the Gospel. Tribulation was leading to cynicism; experience was leading to despair. In those moments, I would have to purposely change my thoughts to how much I’m getting to know Jesus now, how much He loved me in order to die for me, and how much He wants my good in this life and in the next.

When I’d start thinking about how He gave His perfect life in exchange for the one I was failing at, I’d remember to be patient. I’d remember thankfulness. I’d be humbled and awestruck to think that Jesus came and paid for my sins, even the ones I was committing this week in my tribulation.

So ultimately, I’d find hope – and that would lead me right back to the Gospel.

I think that’s why Paul says, “hope maketh not ashamed.” If I didn’t know Jesus, I would be ashamed and wallowing in my sin. But since I know Jesus, I know He already took all the punishment and shame of my sins on Himself – leaving me to stand perfect and shameless before God.

When Paul says we glory/joy in the Gospel AND in tribulation, I think he means we just basically glory in the Gospel. Always. In every circumstance. In every experience. And ESPECIALLY in every tribulation.

Author’s note: I used the KJV translation of Romans 5 for this blog post; other translations differ wildly. I believe, however, that my main points are biblically sound, even if there may be better passages than Romans 5 to draw from.

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