Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for March 6, 2013

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, 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. (Romans 5:1-5)

I don’t know that much about suffering, really. I know people who have suffered deep loss and pain; by comparison, my sufferings have been minimal. I recognize that there are people in the world suffering from hunger, disease, and oppression. I do not suffer from these kinds of things.

But I do know something about hope, and the Bible speaks of it quite a bit, as it does about suffering. When you hope for something, you are very happy when that hope is fulfilled—after all, hope has, as its object, an encounter with the thing for which you have hoped. On the other side, we also speak of hopes unfulfilled, hopes being dashed, and so on. When our hopes bring us no payback, no honoring of a promise, then we are disappointed. Hope is the thing we look forward to. We stop hoping when we get what we desire.

Except that’s not what the apostle Paul says.

He says that hope doesn’t disappoint us, and not because we’ve received a release from suffering or some other tangible reward. He says that hope doesn’t disappoint because of the outpouring of the love of God through the Holy Spirit. And Paul was writing to people who knew a thing or two about suffering.

Over the years I’ve heard of the potential rewards of following Jesus: You enjoy prosperity, your ailments get healed, you feel great all the time, you have all the answers. Those are some of the things you hope for, and if you don’t receive them it might be your lack of faith or lack of understanding.

But that’s not what the apostle Paul says.

In the midst of suffering, marginalization, and loss, hope is not disappointed because of the outpouring of God’s love. His Spirit is already with us, and our hope is there. And hope is always alive and operational. We’re not anticipating something else, looking for another answer, waiting for our spiritual or material ship to come in. Our hope is already fulfilled in the outpouring of God’s love, and yet hope still remains alive.

God’s love is already there. It precedes our own fractured loves and our own misplaced hopes.

“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us . . .” (1 John 4:10a)

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