Suffering and Hope

We talk a lot in our faith about peace and hope. We certainly know what those things are, and when we can feel them and when we can’t. But where do they come from?

According to Paul, peace and hope come from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and often as we move through difficult times. That’s a pretty big concept, though. What does this work of the Holy Spirit feel like? How do you know it when it shows up?

I’ve known a lot of people who have gone through unbelievably difficult times and they have come out stronger — and with this amazing sense of hope and an unshakeable feeling of peace. Instead of being destroyed by a horrific experience — and coming out of it with their sense that anything good can happen dashed — they emerge from these difficulties with incredibly strong character, deep peace, and real hope for the future.

This Sunday in Sanctuary worship we’re wrapping up our series A Healthy Spirituality for Our Time with a look at the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and how we move through difficult times from suffering to hope. We’re considering a passage of scripture from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5, verses 1-5.

One of the aspects of Paul’s life that stands out is that it was difficult. Paul had a lot of trouble in his life. He truly suffered. There are several passages in his writings and in the book of Acts that tell of his difficulties and suffering. But, Paul doesn’t stop with those descriptions and lists of his troubles and suffering. Rather, Paul gives us insight into how difficulties can function in our lives, how we can place them in perspective, and what resources are available to us.

Paul writes, “Trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” The word he uses for trouble is thlipis, which literally means pressure. All kinds of things may press in on us: difficult economic circumstances, loneliness, health problems, a job loss, grief from the death of a loved one, racism, injustice, the state of our nation, or the state of our world.

Pressure, trouble, difficulty, or suffering can lead us to a place of anger and frustration with life. It can steal life from us, and it can rob us of the joy our Creator intended for us. But it doesn’t have to.  It can also lead to what Paul calls “endurance.” This doesn’t just mean “hanging on ‘til it’s over.” It is more than that.

I think it has to do with the way you deal with trouble. A Healthy Spirituality helps us deal with trouble or even suffering in such a way that we endure and we endure in such a way that our character is strengthened and that character produces hope in us.

Trouble can produce endurance, but it certainly doesn’t always. I think it’s when you rely on the presence of God, trusting in God to see you through, to enable you to endure the hardships or troubles or even the suffering that is coming your way, the way you handle those troubles in relation to God can produce endurance – help you to endure.

And then, as you endure, the experience becomes part of what builds character. And it’s that character that produces a kind of hopefulness in you: “I’ve seen trouble, I’ve endured it, I got through it.” So we feel this new resilience — and we then have hope that comes from knowing that God’s strength is there for us and that trouble, no matter what it is, doesn’t last.

I think it all really comes down to the beginning of this passage. What do we do in times of trouble to endure? What helps us endure it?

Paul says it’s the faithfulness of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

A healthy spirituality for our time is one that enables us to rely on the faithfulness of Christ —”we have been made righteous by his faithfulness”— and the peace that we have with God. Notice the Common English Bible translation. The Greek is really about the faithfulness of Jesus, not our faith in Jesus. It’s a very different theological proposition, really. Our hope ultimately is in the faithfulness of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit.


Dr. Tim Bruster
Senior Pastor

 

Romans 5:1-5 Common English Bible (CEB)

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

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