Magazine article The Christian Century

Are We There Yet? the Route from Suffering to Hope Can Be a Very Winding Road

Magazine article The Christian Century

Are We There Yet? the Route from Suffering to Hope Can Be a Very Winding Road

Article excerpt

Sunday, June 12 Romans 5: 1-8

WHEN I TAKE a long road trip, the route I choose depends on whether I am driving my car or riding my motorcycle. If I have a tight time line, I drive my car. I prefer to travel on interstate highways if possible. My priority is to get to my destination quickly; I map out a route, set the cruise control, turn on the radio, fly through the countryside and stop only when absolutely necessary.

But if the weather is right and time is no factor, my priorities change. I grab my helmet and am off on my motorcycle. I avoid the interstate at all costs, mostly because I find Midwest interstates mind-numbingly boring to travel on a bike. I ride on back roads and state routes, take in the scenery and sometimes stop in a town even if I don't need to refuel. These are two very different ways to get from point A to point B.

When I read Romans 5:1-8, I want to go from suffering to hope as quickly as possible. The words fly by me like scenery zooming past on the interstate: "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" (my hyphens). I try to slow down but I can't. The end is what I like about the passage. I am impatient, focused on reaching that hopeful part. My brain asks, like a child's voice: "Are we there yet?"

The mention of hope and love draws me. I feel called to share a message that gives people hope. Yet as powerful as it is to preach about God's presence and enduring love, about looking forward in the midst of suffering, believers will hear this message differently depending on how quickly they are living through the succession of steps on their way to hope. Some believers could be just starting out on the suffering-to-hope journey. They may be experiencing suffering as just that: suffering. For them suffering is producing anger, sadness and pain well ahead of any promised endurance their experience might bring. Paul's route for this trip may be clearly mapped out, but for some it's not a trip on a straight interstate highway at 65 miles an hour. Instead it feels more like a dizzying drive on a road with steep climbs, narrow bridge crossings and warning signs. On this winding road, the journey takes on a new dimension. Those words--suffering, endurance, character, hope--are like signs for small towns you ride through on a motorcycle. …

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