Trials and Character

“…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character…” (Romans 5:3-4).

For disciples of Christ, it’s heartening to know that persevering in tribulation yields proven character — “a quality of life and character that has been tempered and purified and demonstrated to be pleasing to God” (Jack Cottrell). Marvin Vincent called it “tried integrity.” As James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4).

However…“A man must be careful. His trials and tribulations may be the result of his own foolishness; if this is the case, his tribulations may not result in proven character at all!” (Gareth Reese).

Many hardships have multiple, complex causes that are largely beyond our control; but some troubles we may bring directly on ourselves through foolishness and sin. True, we can learn and grow even from these. But not everyone does. Many choose instead to blame it all on someone or something else. They keep on making the same bad choices, reaping the same bad consequences, and offering the same bad excuses. They manage to grow in nothing but their bitterness and their capacity for blame-shifting. Worse, some act as if there is something inherently noble about all their self-inflicted suffering, even as they refuse to acknowledge, much less change, the thinking and behavior that keep the whole sad cycle stuck on repeat.

Not all suffering is necessarily sanctified. George Mark Elliott warned, “Sometimes when a man thinks he is wearing a martyr’s crown, he really is wearing a fool’s cap!” And God warns, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:15-16; cf. 2:20).