I’m not praying for God to stop COVID-19. Instead, I’m praying for something else, something more important.
Romans 5:3 says we should “exult in our tribulation.” Why? Because, as Paul continues, “tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
In these three verses, Paul provides an insight into why God allows suffering in our lives. He describes a chain of transformation consisting of four links that ultimately connect our tribulations to the deep love of God.
Here is the ultimate takeaway: Suffering is necessary in the Christian life because it leads to a hope that transcends our current circumstances and releases the love of God into our lives.
The first link in our chain is tribulation. Suffering during tribulation is unavoidable in a fallen world, but for us it has a purpose. Paul says tribulation produces perseverance, the second link. Trusting God while enduring the hard things of life eventually results in a stubborn determination to finish the race.
Do we persevere through the easy things? No. We persevere through suffering. Without suffering, there’s nothing to endure. Suffering changes us. It teaches us tenacity.
The chain’s third link connects perseverance to character. Proven character is the quality of a person who has been tested and passed the test. A person with proven character is a sturdy veteran, not a green recruit, someone who’s been through the battle and is still standing.
The fourth link in the chain of transformation ties proven character to hope. This is not just any hope, though. It’s the hope of the gospel. As God develops our character in the present, He can be relied on for the future, too. We’re confident of our destiny because of our current, unchanging standing with God. “Having been justified by faith” (5:1), we have forever peace with God through Christ. We can trust Him, even in troubling times.
Look at our links: tribulation to perseverance, perseverance to character, and character to hope. And this hope will never disappoint, because it is chained to the anchor of the steadfast love of God.
God knows our trials and our tribulations, but He doesn’t usually rescue us out of them. Rather, He allows us to suffer for good reason—to gain a hope that does not disappoint, because “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Ironically, suffering through tribulation turns out to be the best way for us to become grounded in the love of God. Though it sounds counterintuitive—suffering sometimes causes us to doubt God’s love—it’s still true. The way God redeems pain and suffering in our lives actually becomes a powerful part of the answer to the challenge of evil in the world.
John Stott says that being sure of the love of God is “the major secret of joy, peace, freedom, confidence, and self-respect.” I agree. But how do you know God loves you while you’re suffering? Because of the magnificent chain linking us—through tribulation and suffering—to the love of God poured out in our lives.
King David expressed it this way: “My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:5–6).
The fact that God has chosen you and given you the gift of the Holy Spirit shows His immeasurable love for you. Even during times of self-quarantine and COVID-19. Indeed, especially during these times.
God loves you and isn’t allowing suffering to victimize you. He has a purpose in it, even if you can’t see it. The suffering of tribulation produces perseverance. Perseverance produces proven character. Proven character produces a hope that will never disappoint.
So no, I’m not praying for God to stop COVID-19. I already know He will. Eventually, this too shall pass. Rather, I’m praying that in the midst of the pain of crisis, you and I stay confident that God will use these difficulties to build perseverance, proven character, and hope in each of us, His children.