How Trials Can Make You Better . . . Or Worst

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5:3-4).

A living dog is better than a dead lion. Or another way of putting it: better to be hopeful through trials than to give up in despair. Life is full of suffering and no matter the complaints and demands, one will always face some level of suffering. To suffer well is noble - it works as a refiners fire and brings out the best in all of us when we accept responsibility and do what we can to make life better. This sort of attitude contradicts the nagging, juvenile, entitlement temperament that’s obviously prevalent amidst most of the West. This temperament is selfishly concerned with fulfilling base desires, generally dislikes family, associates little with others who are truly in need, treats God as a genie, and is particularly demanding on client privileges, regardless of the cost to others; that is, the temperament is spoiled. It thinks it a lion but is dead inside.

Suffering isn’t to be handled tyrannically. The Apostle Paul offers a brilliant alternative (and one that he practiced, too). Here’s one way of understanding it:

Notice that a hopeful disposition is earned through enduring trials and is predicated on a strong character. The confident individual, cheerful and full of bright potential, has weathered the storms of yesterday through steady self-discipline, for endurance is a hard choice and requires mastery over the wayward desires of immediate gratification. Patience rather than haste has accompanied and, as Thomas Aquinas pointed out, has also strengthened the individual through the temptations of despair. Being shielded from adversity doesn’t garner a capable personality. In fact, it causes an arrested development in which responsibility is relinquished for a youthful character, charming but hardly self-governing. The despairing soul lacks purpose, has a tough time keeping friends, is unreliable, constantly waivers, and like an afternoon sunbeam, vanishes quickly behind the solid stance of an old oak.

One last word: the trials of life were never to be suffered alone. Before sin entered the world, God said, “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18a). This was before the days of suffering when all was right in the Garden of Eden. So if we weren’t meant to be alone then, well, we’re certainly not meant to be alone now. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” God made you and I to live life with others, and that includes the hard times. And oh, by the way, when you put your faith in God, He’s always with you. You’re never alone when you’ve got God. He can give you the endurance needed for any trial.

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).