Romans 5:3b-5. But we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
I’m sure that Paul’s audience in Rome connected well with his message that through their faith in Christ, their suffering yields endurance, builds character, and ultimately hope and love. Indeed, historians and scholars agree that a factor that led to the rapid spread of Christianity was the conspicuous contrast in the ways Christians and pagans responded to the suffering caused by famine and plague. When an epidemic of smallpox, or some other contagion arrived in an area, a typical pagan response would be to abandon the sick to fend for themselves and retreat to the countryside until the danger had passed. The early Christians on the other hand were known for staying and caring for the sick and weak at considerable risk to their own health and well-being. Early Christians also stood out for their willingness to care for and support widows, orphans, slaves, prisoners, and other marginalized groups. The Christian’s faith that God loves us, and commands us to unconditionally “love one another” was a radically new concept in that world.
Our lives today bear little resemblance to the early Roman Empire. Yet, there is a parallel in the work of special people who are called to support and walk with individuals and families in times of suffering and crisis. Like their ancient predecessors, chaplains choose to be where there is a need of love and caring, often in trying circumstances. You find them providing solace in war zones, prisons, hospitals, refugee camps, and crime and accident scenes. They choose not to emotionally ‘retreat to the countryside’ during times of crisis, but instead become a living expression of God’s love to the people they serve. An abbreviated job description for chaplains might very well be “to act as a vessel of God’s love helping people transition through suffering to hope.”
I have always been inspired by the accounts of the early Church, when the message of the Gospel was radical and new, spreading like wildfire throughout the region. Two thousand years later, the message is no longer revolutionary, but the practices of compassion, love, and caring displayed conspicuously by early Christians and modern chaplains is something we can all emulate.