“Hope.” If I am honest, it has always been a sentimental word for me.
Hope suggests passivity to me. I like outcomes to be guaranteed, goals to be measure-able, and rules clear, and then followed precisely. I have always prided myself on being the kind of person who makes things happen, not “hopes” that they will happen. Why hope for something when you can instead spend your energy making it happen? (Read, a little controlling and a little type-A).
The problem with this is, there are some things I can’t make happen, lots of things I can’t control and many rules that, even if I follow them precisely, don’t guarantee the outcomes that I seek.
During this COVID 19 pandemic, I have learned and re-learned this every day, sometimes multiple times a day. The most difficult thing about this pandemic for me is that it exposes what I fear the most:
That I do not have control over what happens to me or my loved ones. That no matter what I do, I cannot protect them from COVID 19. But the truth is, I cannot protect them from anything. And I have never been able to. Any moment in my past that told me otherwise gave me a false illusion of control. Now the illusion has dissipated and I am forced to live with reality every day.
And herein lies my greatest suffering.
It is this suffering that has led me back to this word that I once thought sentimental. “Hope.”
Paul says this about hope:
“…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. Romans 5:3-5
Right before this, Paul has spent an entire section (all of Chapter 4) talking about Abraham. And I imagine him thinking of Abraham as he wrote this in Chapter 5:3-5.
Abraham is the Patriarch, or Father, of our Christian faith. This is one thing that Paul says about him:
When it was beyond hope, he had faith in the hope that he would become the father of many nations, in keeping with the promise God spoke to him: That’s how many descendants you will have. Romans 4:18
You may remember that the “beyond hope” nature of Abraham’s faith was due to the fact that his body was “as good as dead and his wife Sarah’s womb as good as dead” (Romans 4:19). Abraham was 75 years old when God promised him that he would be the father of many nations (Genesis 12:4). But despite his age and Sarai’s barrenness, Abraham still believed that God would give him a child, and that from this child many nations would come. He was 100 years old when he finally received his promised son, Isaac (Genesis 21:5). You can read the whole long saga in Genesis 12-21.
Paul says that Abraham “did not waiver in unbelief but grew strong in his faith in regard to the promise of God (or the “God of the Promise”) (Romans 4:20). This is an interesting commentary as I reflect back on the Abraham story because I recall many things that could be considered “waivering in unbelief.”
For example, the time that Abraham agreed to sleep with Sarai’s servant Hagar and bore her a son, Ishmael (Genesis 16).
Or the two times that Abraham gave Sarai to other men to sleep with, claiming that she was his sister for their safety (Genesis 12:13 and Genesis 20).
It seems to me that Paul calling Abraham’s faith “unwaivering” is a little generous. And yet, maybe this is exactly Paul’s intention. To exalt the faith of Abraham is to acknowledge that this waiting on God thing is really hard. To exalt the faith of Abraham is to give all believers permission to fail, screw-up, get angry, say and do hasty things, and even step in the wrong direction.
Abraham’s faith was not perfect. But maybe Paul considered it “unwaivering” because Abraham spent 25 years hoping. What does it mean to hope? It means to expect, pray, and trust that God will come through in the ways that we are needing God to come through. Paul says that it is suffering and struggles and problems that leads us to hope.
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. Romans 5:3-5
I don’t know if we will get to the end of this COVID 19 pandemic and consider our faith “unwaivering.” However, my prayer is that, as we suffer, we will embrace the faith of Abraham who beyond hope, embraced hope that the God of the Promise would come through for him. When we are pushed past the point of what we can accomplish or control, then all we have left is hope.