Thursday, June 30, 2011

Romans 5: How does Suffering Produce Hope?

With Paul I rejoice that by the grace of the cross, through faith, I now have peace with God. The Jew in me joyfully lays down the unbearable burden of trying to please a holy God by being good.  The good news is that the Holy One of Israel understands my moral weakness and has taken up the full burden of righteousness himself. I need only walk by His side. The Gentile in me weeps with relief that the capricious gods of Rome and Greece are false, and that the One God is knowable, and known, and knows me. There is gno longer any gneed for gnosis. God has made his wisdom accessible to all people, stupid or smart, Jew or Gentile, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.

With Paul I rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Now I see it through a glass darkly; one day, face to face, Hallelujah, my heart thrills. Just thinking about it is enough to make me get up out of the bed in the morning and then some.

With Paul I even rejoice in my sufferings, because they produce perseverance, which produces character. In training for the July 31 Colchester Triathlon I find that my hours in the Racquet’s Edge pool have produced new strength and stamina. On really good days I simply surge up and out of the water with every stroke. I get the sufferings-perseverance-character parallel between physical and moral strength. Larry Staab, a fellow swimmer and brother at JCC who endured the notorious Hell Week of Navy SEAL training with a broken foot, has encouraged me in this regard.

But I DON’T get the last link in Paul’s chain of suffering: hope. How, exactly, does the suffering that produces perseverance and character culminate in hope? What’s the connection there? To me, it is not humanly intuitive, as is suffering's link with perseverance and character. As I finish the passage - “And hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us” – I see I have partially misunderstood the teaching about suffering, perseverance, and character. God is not my Jillian Michaels of America’s Biggest Loser, my trainer in self-improvement for my benefit. In His eyes I am identified with Christ. As His son underwent suffering and perseverance and displayed character, so must I; and as His son endured all in hope and joy and was resurrected unto glorious life, so will I through His Spirit of Power.

As the Spirit uses sufferings to produce Christ-like perseverance and character, He also bestows on those “in training” the strength-enhancing gift of Hope, the protein of the soul. “I am my beloved, and He is mine, his banner over me is love,” said the expectant bride in Song of Solomon. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand in the last day,” said suffering Job. The Spirit gives me strong hope as I give Him my waiting and suffering; now, in the Garden; daily, under the Cross; one day, at the Resurrection.

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