Bishop Mark Hanson: Hope in the Midst of Suffering

Luther urged living, daring confidence in God's grace

What passage of Scripture would you share with a vibrant urban congregation remembering the volatile and violent response to the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles 20 years ago?

That was the question I pondered as I prepared to greet the people of Holy Trinity Lutheran and later that day with New City Parish, a coalition of nine ELCA congregations in the Los Angeles area.

For so many reasons it seemed fitting to read 1 Peter 1:3-10. Yes, God "has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

Yet the passage goes on: "In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials ...." 

That is the reality and witness of the Christian life, is it not? The ever-present tension of rejoicing in the hope of the new life we have in Jesus Christ in the midst of suffering. 

I also shared with the people of Holy Trinity Martin Luther's description of evangelical faith as "a living, daring confidence in God's grace."

These words describe both the witness of the people of Holy Trinity and our life together in Christ in theELCA. We have begun using those words that describe faith as "a living, daring confidence in God's grace" to explain more fully the hope of our life together in Jesus Christ. So I also want to share with you the full version of Luther's description.

"Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that believers would stake their life on it one thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God's grace makes people glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, people are ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown them this grace" (Luther's Works, American edition, vol. 35, pages 370-371).

Our faith is living.

It is a living hope through Christ's resurrection. At its center our faith is more than just a static, printed list of statements or ideas we believe. It is a living relationship with Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ with the world.

In the same passage from his introduction to Romans, Luther writes that "faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them."

Our faith is also daring.

Faith is a dare that a life of generous love in Christ will never go bankrupt; a dare that because God is not in the sin accounting business, we are in God's business of forgiveness and reconciliation; a dare that even trials and suffering can have meaning when endured for the sake of others and what God promises in Christ.

Faith is daring because, as Francis of Assisi said, "in baptism we have died the only death that matters, leaving us free to risk every other death for the sake of life."

Faith is a confidence in God.

Faith does not resolve all the uncertainties, ambiguity and paradox that we experience. Rather, faith is confidence in the mercies of the Triune God, confidence that God can be trusted to be faithful to God's promise. It is not the false certainty in one's own piety that often judges and excludes others. Rather, the power of the Spirit leads us confidently to discover who others really are and to act courageously on behalf of our neighbors. "This confidence in God's grace makes people glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures."

I encourage you to view and share the video on this living, daring, confidence that was shown at synod assemblies this year (watch "Living, daring confidence" on YouTube). Even more, I invite you to continue to join together in this life of faith's living, daring, confidence in God's grace.

Taken with permission from the June 2012 issue of The Lutheran magazine.