“Don’t you know? You’re building character.” This was an oft statement given to me during a rough patch in my life some years back. It cheesed me off. It was about 10 years ago when things were going to pot. Things were in the crapper like you wouldn’t believe. Nothing was going right. All was wrong. My life just plain sucked. And well meaning people would tell me that I was building character. After over two years of hearing that, I was downright tired of building character. It cheesed me off to say the least.
What’s worse is that people who said this to me actually thought they were quoting the Bible when they told me it was building character. The Bible said that? Not the Bible I wanted to read nor read.
The Bible is filled with talking about suffering. The Psalms have more laments in them than anything else. A lament is a cry out to God for help, asking Him to remember His unfailing love (see Psalm 13, etc). These laments are filled with crying out to God in the midst of suffering, asking Him why bad things are happening when they’ve tried all they could to live a life following God’s Word. They are filled with people crying out to God wanting to know why they are suffering. Psalm 88 is the darkest of all these psalms. It’s a tough read for sure.
But never in the Psalms does a person cry out “God, thank you for building character in me.” Not once do words of assurance in the psalms say “Blessed is the one who suffers for they will build character.” No where does it say that. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples to rejoice when suffering and being persecuted for Him. James writes that we should count it all joy that we suffer. No where doe they mention building character.
So where does this come from.
It’s a misinterpretation of Romans 5:3-4
“We also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4
People kept stopping at character after perseverance and never started at glorying in suffering. Now, this isn’t saying to be masochistic in suffering. Instead, the suffering is to suffer on account of Jesus and the gospel. There will be suffering. We all will go through suffering at one point in time or another if you are a follower of Jesus.
But building character?
Character today is almost synonymous with integrity. We say that someone has good character. That means they’re a good person. But if they’re a bad character, they are a bad person.
This idea of character in Romans is more along the lines of having proof that something is genuine. In other words, that the perseverance is genuine and proof that the hope we have in Jesus is genuine because of the present sufferings we go through for Jesus. It has nothing to do with being a good person and having a better character as we see it today. In fact, its more about what happens after someone goes through a trial. It’s about how one is after being through the wringer.
Building character is about building hope in Jesus Christ. It’s about having hope in who Jesus is and the promises of God that are yes in Jesus Christ. It’s not about being a good person but about being a follower of Jesus and clinging to His promises in hard times and suffering.
So, yeah, maybe I got cheesed off for no good reason. Maybe what I just said counteracts things a little bit (but hey, it’s a short blog post, what do you expect?).
When things are going rough for someone, don’t point them to building character, point them to the hope that is in Jesus. A hope that leads to a blessed assurance that Jesus is with us through all life’s hard demands. A hope that leads to an assurance that leads to a peace that passes all understanding that guards our hearts and minds. A peace that is more than just character but an ability to be sustained through the tough times in life.
In other words, platitudes suck especially when quoting the Bible in the wrong way. Point towards the hope that can help in the midst of trouble.