2 Ways to Understand the Word “In” During Seasons of Difficulty

It’s amazing how you understand one little word can change your perspective, isn’t it? Take, for example, a word like “yes.”

Just three letters, but such power:

  • Will you marry me? Yes. 
  • Is the baby healthy? Yes. 
  • Does it come with bacon? Yes. 

Of course, that power works both ways doesn’t it? 

  • Are you sure it’s over? Yes. 
  • Is it terminal? Yes. 
  • Did you mean what you said? Yes. 

Same word, but depending on the context and your understanding of the word, it changes everything. Such is the case with another word, this one with only two letters. It’s the word “in.” It’s a kind of throwaway word – one that just appears in our regular course of speech. It’s a word we use, read, and implicitly understand all the time. And it’s a word that appears in the first few verses of Romans 5:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5:3-5).

This is a passage that brings perspective – perspective about suffering. And, according to Paul, there is a redemptive quality to suffering. It has a refining effect – suffering, though painful, does something in us. God uses difficulties and pain to expose our sin, weakness, self-reliance, and a host of other things, and in so doing, makes us more like Jesus. The progression runs from suffering to endurance to character to hope. 

And that brings us to the little word that appears at the front end of this passage – “in”. Because of this process, we can rejoice “in” our sufferings. But what does it mean to rejoice “in” our sufferings? There are a couple of ways we can take that word. 

We could, for example, take the word “in” to mean that our sufferings are the instigators of our rejoicing. In that case, we could almost substitute the words “because of” for in, so that “we rejoice because of our sufferings.” 

Then again, we could understand the word “in” to have a sense of location or position. It’s not that our sufferings are prompting us to rejoice; instead, we find ourselves “in” a season of suffering, but despite the pain we are experiencing, we can still rejoice because we know there is something redemptive happening even in the midst of the difficulty. 

So which is it? Do we rejoice because we are suffering, or do we rejoice even though we are suffering? And perhaps the answer to the question is “yes.”

The second usage of the word “in” is a little easier in this regard. When we find ourselves in the middle of circumstances we didn’t ask for, there is still an opportunity to rejoice. We can rejoice because we know that God is still in control, and He is still working in us and through us. We can rejoice because we know that God can – and does – bring good out of bad. So we can rejoice despite our circumstances.

The first usage is harder though. Anyone who has suffered knows how counterintuitive it is to rejoice at what’s happening to you. Who in their right mind would glibly thank the Lord for the disease? Or the job loss? Or the unfair treatment? And even in the first usage of the word “in”, that’s not what it means. 

The kind of rejoicing in suffering is not some kind of unrealistic denial of reality. It’s not happiness; and it’s not emotional. Instead, it is a deep set, soul level kind of joy. Unshakable joy. Joy in who God is born from the confidence of His love and wisdom. And joy because we believe in who He is even now. Even in the midst of pain.

The Christian, then, can rejoice “in” our sufferings. We can rejoice even though we are in them, and we can rejoice because of them.

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