Endurance and Hope
Photo by Andrea Gray on Illustrated Faith, Why Me? A lesson in Perseverance
In the last months I have heard much of hope. Most of what I’ve read tells me we cling to hope for the sake of endurance. Hope keeps us going when we want to give up.
I’ve been clinging to hope because I’m weary. The first two weeks of December have been a crush. It’s more work than usual, and all in front of a computer screen in a converted guest room that has enjoyed no guests for months, a room never meant as a home office. And for whatever reason, the rising darkness weighs more heavily this year than usual.
I expect you can relate. On top of the usual end-of-year labors, many of you are trying to lead a congregation through the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season with tools you haven’t used before—and without tools you cherish. Hearing “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right” (Gal. 6:9) may just make you want to whimper.
And then our hearts go out to those who may bear even heavier burdens: nurses and chaplains; teachers and students (and students’ parents, who have now “Zoom-monitors” on top of their regular titles); the “lucky” ones who haven’t been furloughed but now work twice as hard as before; and those less lucky. Torn between growing demand and shrinking resources, so many people struggle to keep going, all the while living under the cloud of a virulent disease.
So I’m in a bit of an argument with the Apostle Paul right now. His words in Romans 5 seem timely—like they want to tell me something. But I don’t want to turn them into platitudes.
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. (vv. 3-5)
How does suffering produce endurance? I’m not sure. I am sure it’s not a general principle. Endurance does not follow naturally on affliction like spring upon winter. Sometimes suffering just produces bitter or broken people. Maybe Paul’s words here only make sense in the light of the cross.
But as I’ve wrestled with the passage, the puzzle of suffering didn’t catch my attention the most. Something else did.
Regardless of how suffering produces endurance, endurance eventually leads to hope. And that makes me think—because it’s not what I usually think.
I usually think that hope enables endurance, not the other way around. Not so here. For Romans 5, endurance produces character, and character hope. Endurance comes first.
Patiently bearing with our afflictions grows in us a proven character, in the same way that the blast furnace purges imperfections out of precious metals. When we see ourselves becoming more like Christ—well, perhaps that’s what brings hope.
But perhaps there’s something deeper. I don’t have my Romans commentaries readily at hand (curse you, pandemic), but I wonder: Could the “because” at 5:5b account for all of verses 3-5a? Could all of this be true—“suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint”—because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”?
Maybe hope doesn’t give us the strength to keep going. But maybe hope also doesn’t naturally result from endurance, any more than endurance naturally results from suffering. Maybe it all happens only “through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” the Spirit through which God’s love has been poured into our hearts.
So I think that’s what I’ll pray for a while, when I think of you and me and the nurses and grandparents-turned-classroom-aides. Not that we’ll have endurance enough to find our way to hope. No, I’ll pray that God’s love once again is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
And then I’ll trust—at least, I’ll try to trust—that the rest will follow.
Somewhere along the Way—
P.S. I’m glad some of you have found ways to gather for in-person worship. I look forward to seeing what your creativity will produce now that the recent stay-at-home orders allow for outdoor worship only.
For now, I don’t plan to join you. I do not want to occupy one of a limited number of seats when your people strive to be faithful and safe. I will continue to follow your worship services online as I have since March.
In the meantime, please know that you are in my heart. I miss you. You have my good wishes for a Christmas that, though it be different than we had expected or desired, might still be blessed.