“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations . . .” (Romans 5:3).
It is not unusual for people to take pride in, or even boast about, the problems that they face in their lives. Athletes will often speak in interviews about “All the adversity I (or we) have overcome” to be successful as an individual or a team. They are not the only ones to use hardships as motivation to try to prove themselves to others. Minorities, the poor, and those with various handicaps will all display their problems proudly to show the extent of their triumphs and successes.
One common error that such pride succumbs to is to feel that one’s particular adversities are somehow special. Maybe they don’t claim that they are more troubled than anyone else, but there is often a distinct flavor of, “I have had to overcome more than most,” at the very least.
Almost always that is simply not true. Problems, difficulties, even opposition and oppression are common to the human experience. Job observed, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). The Psalmist proclaimed,
“The days of our lives are seventy years, and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).
Pain, suffering, illness, poverty, oppression, social injustice, war, and violence are only some of the many afflictions which fill human history and every nation and culture. Enjoyment of life is obtained only by effort, and it must always deal with adversity. Some certainly seem to have advantages, but no one is exempt.
The ability to deal with problems is one of the more vital life skills which we should seek to acquire. Paul’s words, previously quoted, encourage us to that goal. He did not teach that we should boast in our tribulations, but rather find joy in them. In this he is reminding readers of the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4; see also verses 6 & 10).
The idea that we should be happy while we are suffering seems wrong and even impossible to most of us. Yet it is simply the assertion that happiness is not a product of circumstances. One may be happy whether he is full or hungry, well clothed or not, comfortably warm or too cold (Philippians 4:11-12). Speaking of material prosperity Jesus taught, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
One who is secure in his faith in God and his hope of eternal life may be content wherever he is and with whatever God has given. Health, wealth, accomplishments, and fame may be appreciated, but are not necessary. God’s blessings do not depend upon these things, and cannot be measured by them.
Sometimes that which rewards us most is what others would consider an affliction. But as Paul also taught, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecution, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). God had promised to extend to Paul his grace (verse 9). That was all the apostle would need.