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Boasting in Hope

'HOPE' photo (c) 2009, DieselDemon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Romans 5: 1-5. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]                   

By Rev. Dr. R. Scott Sullender

Most of us are avoiders—we avoid suffering. Some of us are survivors—we survive our sufferings. Paul is a boaster—he boasts (NRSV) in his afflictions, certain that his suffering will make him hope all the more, and hope will not disappoint him. An astounding claim! I suppose he has a point. The more we suffer, the more we rely on God, trust in God, hope in God. Our sufferings force us to our knees! Remember Luther's advice, "sin boldly so grace may abound?" Paul might say, "Suffer bravely, so hope may abound."

We cannot choose the path we walk in life. Some walk paths of great pain and hardship. Others seem to have easier paths. But sooner or later, into each life, "some rain must fall." We cannot choose otherwise. Paul implies that we can choose the attitude we shall take toward our sufferings. Will we whine and complain? Will we learn to be helpless? Will we learn bitterness? Or will we learn endurance, character and hope?

Hope is the end result of suffering. Suffering plus endurance, plus character, equals hope. Hope is born in suffering. Hope is strengthened in endurance. Hope is rooted in character. Hope is not fiction, a wish upon a star, a pipe dream or fantasy.

We hope because "God's love has been poured into our hearts ..."(v.5). Hope in a future is based on hope realized in the past. The hope of the future advent is based on the hope fulfilled in the first advent. We might say that hope has a history, as well as a future. What is your personal hope history? Has God been faithful to you in past times of trial? Can you allow that history to inform your hope now? Does that history even give you reason to boast?

Rev. Dr. R. Scott Sullender is associate professor of pastoral counseling at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


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