The Road To Hope

THE ROAD TO HOPE

 

ROMANS 5:1-5

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August 15, 1945. It was the day after V-J Day, that’s victory in Japan for us young whippersnappers.  The allies had just won a long and bloody fight against the Japanese Empire. As David Brooks, author of The Road To Character, points out the public mood at the time was a bit different than what we might expect today for a victorious nation.  Brooks tells about hearing a rebroadcast of the radio show Command Performance, where celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, and many others told of the victory with an attitude of effacement and humility. Ernie Pyle, the war correspondent, who had been killed a few months before, wrote these words in an article anticipating victory, “ We won this war because our men are brave and because of many other things- because of Russia, England, and China and the passage of time and the gift of nature’s materials. We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other people I hope that in victory we are more grateful than proud.” ( Brooks, 4)

Brooks reports that there was great celebration at news of the victory but also there was a mood of solemnity. To quote brooks, “This was in part because the war had been such an epochal event, and had produced such rivers of blood, that individuals felt small in comparison.” (Brooks, 4) Yet, Brooks argues that the reaction to the war wasn’t just about the death toll. He argues, that the World War II generation wasn’t really into making a big deal about themselves. To quote Brooks, “Their collective impulse was to warn themselves against pride and self glorification. They intuitively resisted the natural human tendency toward excessive self love” (Brooks, 4) After listening to this rebroadcast of Command Performance in his car,  Brooks tells his readers that he arrived at his home and watched a football game. To quote Brooks, “ A quarterback threw a short pass to a wide receiver ,  who was tackled almost immediately for a two year gain. The defensive player did what all professional athletes do these days in moments of personal accomplishment. He did a self puffing victory dance, as the camera lingered.” Brooks goes on to say, “ It occurred to me that I had just watched more self celebration after a two yard gain than I had heard after the United States won World War II.” (Brooks, 4)” The nation had found the road to hope through its character.

“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

What is the road to hope? I have been asking myself that question over the past few weeks. Because I need to know that path, I need to walk that path, perhaps you all do as well. I read these verses in my devotional time and I have been rather fixated on this passage. You see the Word of God never gets old. The Spirit can reveal new things to us even if we have read a passage a thousand times. What struck me about this passage is that I could understand how suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, but for the life of me I couldn’t understand how character produces hope. There wasn’t a logical connection in my mind. Why does character produce hope? You have to know the right question before the Lord can give you the right answer. Because David Brooks shows us how the character of a generation helped them get through the cataclysm that was World War II. So perhaps this passage can teach us how character can help us get through cataclysms in our own lives.  But before we talk about character I think we have to talk about the other steps on the road to hope.

First, Suffering. What does it mean to suffer? Why do we suffer? What does the Bible call us to do when we suffer? As to the first question I have thought a lot about suffering. As some of you know my sister has a chronic pain condition called peripheral neuropathy, which is just a fancy term for we don’t know why you are in pain. She’s had it for close to five years now. We’ve prayed a lot for her healing. She has gone to many specialists and tried many different therapies. Most of the time the pain is manageable. Sometimes it is less so. Recently, she told me that I could continue to pray for her but she was done praying for her own healing. The pain of hope hurt more than the physical pain. So I think suffering is more than just pain, may it be physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. Suffering has an aspect of helplessness to it. Helplessness, both for the one who suffers and for those who love the suffering one.

As to why we suffer. I could give you many different theories. Sometimes we suffer because of the wages of our sin, sometimes because of unjust social structures, sometimes because of disease or disaster. Often, we turn to the book of Job when we talk about suffering, particularly to God’s answer to Job’s question in Job 38.  I think we each have to decide the ultimate reason if any for why we suffer. But if we want the answer to the perennial question, “why do bad things happen to good people,” I think God’s answer in Job can be summed up as, “that’s above your pay grade.”

This scripture tells us that suffering produces endurance. The Greek word here means “to remain under.”  Remaining under suffering is not something we like to do in our society. We are told to shed a few tears and then to move on. Death is a foreign thing in our society, it is sterilized, isolated, pushed to the margins so we don’t have to deal with it.  The scriptures tell us to rejoice in our suffering but that does not mean that our suffering should be without tears. In fact the scriptures witness to the ancient practice of lament.  To quote Winn Collier, author of Restless Faith, “The Scriptures, particularly many of the wisdom passages, are scandalous in how they model the spiritual discipline of wrangling with God. The Hebrews nurtured the discipline of lament to an art form. They understood the God-honoring and humanity-requiring need to recognize the deep brokenness of the soul-and to muster the courage to embrace it before God. To declare it to him. To shout or mumble it at him.” (Collier, 128)

From endurance we move to character. The word for character here means, “ something that is tested and true, something that is proved to be genuine.” To quote Job in his trials of suffering, “ he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”  (Job, 23:10) Character is integrity. It is being able to take what life gives you and turn it into something good. It is being able to stand for the courage of your conviction in the face of trial.

And now we come to how character leads to hope. As I mentioned, the connection isn’t necessarily clear as the other things mentioned in this list. The Pillar New Testament Commentary on Romans has this to say about character, ““Character developed through perseverance in its turn, Paul adds, [produces ] hope’. While it is easy to understand how suffering produces perseverance and how perseverance produces character, it is difficult to explain how character produces hope, and the apostle gives no indication of the way he thinks this occurs. We might surmise that, if the character produced by perseverance includes a greater trust in God, this in turn strengthens our hope of sharing the glory promised by God. The following comment by Moo is pertinent: ‘Sufferings, rather than threatening or weakening hope, as we might expect to be the case, will, instead, increase our certainty in that hope. Hope, like a muscle, will not be strong if it goes unused. It is in suffering that we must exercise with deliberation and fortitude our hope, and the constant reaffirmation of hope in the midst of apparently “hopeless” circumstances will bring ever-deeper conviction of the reality and certainty of that for which we hope ( Rom 4:18-19)”

I know you have nagging doubts. Doubts about who God is. Whether he loves you? Whether he loves me? Whether he has a plan for your life? Whether he has a plan for mine? Whether he has a plan for this church? I am a very self critical man, a people pleaser by nature. I’ve had my fair share of failure in life. Failure tempers and tests a man in a way that success never can.  And there have been times that I have deeply doubted, doubted God, doubted my call, times when I have been hopeless. I often compare myself to others which is never a good strategy I know but we all do it at times. One of my pastor friends back in Richmond is named Corey. He is a very successful pastor. Has a beautiful family. Planted a growing church, and is now the pastor of one of the largest churches in Richmond. He is a dynamic preacher. He would readily admit that his problem is that he is too readily liked.  When I was struggling to find a church I was talking to a friend about my struggles and he bluntly said, “well you are no Corey.”  And those words stung, they cut like a knife to the heart. Part of me felt like it was true. That I could never measure up. Not to what people wanted a pastor to be these days. I see all the things that you as my sheep need. I feel I am good at some things and bad at others.  I want to inspire hope in you to rise up and claim the blessing that God has for this church, may that be faith, finance, numbers, or the blessing of taking part in his suffering, my heart is for you  as my church family, but I struggle to give you a vision, a hope for the future. Sometimes I feel my soul to be barren. I pray for you my people, and my soul is burdened by your struggles, and I weep. I don’t know the way to go from here. Maybe you have felt the same in circumstances in your lives? Maybe you have felt the same in moments of darkness and doubt, in moments of stillness when sanity threatens to slip from your grasp.

Maybe Abraham felt like that too. For he was a man like any other, frail and flawed, a nomad, far away from home. Traveling an impossible journey, because he claims God told him to. He hears God’s promise of a child, a new hope, that will come into his life. But his flesh is weak, he is old, and his wife is barren. But God speaks to him in a vision and says, “ Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram doubted, raising all the legitimate reasons why God’s promises seemed impossible. And God replied, “ Look toward heaven, and the number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “so shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”  I don’t know the promises the Lord has for your particular life or for this particular church. But I know he loves us. And that gives me hope that we shall not be disappointed. We shall reap, If we do not give up, if we continue to walk the road to hope.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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