“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.” - Romans 5:5 (NRSV)
Paul begins this fifth chapter of Romans, seemingly, giving us a crash-course understanding of our [the] benefits as believers in God, justified by faith, and indwelled with the Holy Spirit. We obtain peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by him, Christ, we have accessed grace that is continually at work, and we boast in God - standing in full trust of, and in, God’s ability. We boast in God’s power to provide despite human limitation and fallibility. Further, we remain faith filled, steadfast, and optimistic amid sufferings - enabling us to delve into otherworldly, divine, and holy anticipation of God’s deliverance for us [believers and humanity] from terror and trouble, and supplying us with the tools, both spiritually and physically, to endure that which we face, leading to renewed perspectives to suffering, fiery trials, and possible death.
“…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NRSV). Suffering, referring to suffering on account of persecution, is Paul’s attempt to connect the believer or listener to that of the persecution of Jesus Christ. It’s stated that “some believers may have worried that such afflictions were a sign of God’s wrath; however, Paul challenges them to view suffering as a way to build character” - a clear opportunity for us to admit our very common thought, the idea that our suffering is a result of God’s wrath, anger, or distancing from humanity.
To observe a world, societies, and communities in continual distress, how can one not think God’s anger has been kindled? To bear witness to women and children placed in imminent dangers and unbearable conditions without intervention, the question is real: “how could one not think God’s anger has been kindled?” To see the rich get richer as the poor disappear into the abyss of lack, depravity, despondency, and destitution, one can’t help but ask, “God, has your anger been kindled toward us?” Yet, even in this, one has to ask a more pressing question. One has to raise a more pertinent inquiry: “How have we as humanity failed one another?” That’s where the tension resides. It’s not to deny the possibility of heaven’s discontent, yet it is to raise the matter of communal care, concern, and responsibility, especially for the disinherited.
What do we say to these things? What do we say in this hour? To answer this appropriately, confrontation must occur, naming of the devils and evils, that we not repeat prior actions. I’d argue denial, deception, and delusion enable a state of ill-existence to become, and remain, normative. The conditions before us are undeniably damnable - the terror, trauma, violence, war, and death-facing kingdoms of all facets - all met with poverty, distress, environmental harm, and disregard with a lasting impact upon those beyond our purview and knowledge. Not to be ignored are the unnamed maladies far beyond my comprehension, enough to lead anyone into a state of disrepair - the place where faith becomes irrelevant, hope nonexistent, and promised divine hope an afterthought. Consequently, leaving us - justified by faith, possessing peace in God through Jesus Christ, obtainers of grace and otherworldly trust - with an opportunity to engage a hope which we have not yet obtained in the flesh.
These practices - capitalistic greed and overt imperialistic evil - must be replaced with a communal and reconstituted kin-dom built by and for the people, where the folks are not discarded. Where the aim of not being killed is swallowed up by a larger and more transcendent goal. We can choose to place the blame of our suffering upon our heavenly parent, engage the present hour pessimistically and observe its ills from afar, or confront this hour through a lens of communal responsibility deriving solutions rooted in that more transcendent goal of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. A goal of liberty - life - in Christ uninhibited by the suffering we face and endure. Our present world leaves much to the human imagination, thus giving us hope.
The words of Prathia Hall in her lecture, “Dare We Preach,” fit richly here as she spoke about preserving the heritage of African-American preaching; a people’s hope often bridled, “This heritage is a faith in freedom and a faith for freedom.”
I’m no Pauline apologist, yet his argument that the reality of the hour - whether in reflection, present contemplation, or anticipation of the future - grants us all the ability to see more than what meets the eye. Subsequently, one’s approach and engagement will determine that which is produced. Again, we have the choice and opportunity to engage communal hope through the life we possess in Christ or allow the systems of this world to diminish the possibilities of God’s love evidenced by our daily awakening. Child of God, our aim is freedom manifested by the unbridled hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This fifth verse should strengthen our belief in God - in the God of infinite possibilities: “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.”
To face and confront the suffering - persecution, ridicule, biases, “isms,” hate, and more - not passively or timidly but with bold righteous indignation causes endurance to arise, producing character - character defined by an ethos in Christ, identity molded by Christ, and intuition guided by the Holy Spirit resulting in unbridled hope. This hope is not only or solely found in suffering but is the gift of salvation - justification obtained through the one who is our eternal hope and epitome of freedom by example of righteousness amid distress and persecution.
Henry Highland Garnet, at The National Negro Convention of 1843, declared,
“Your condition does not absolve you from your moral obligation. The diabolical injustice by which your liberties are cloven down, neither God nor angels or just men command you to suffer for a single moment. Therefore, it is your solemn, imperative duty to use every means - moral, intellectual, and physical - that promise success.” [Henry Highland Garnet, “An Address to the Slaves of the United States.”]
The words of Garnet are of holy, resistant hope. Hope not bound to the systems of empire, oppression of imperialists, or hate of supremacists, but hope rooted in the freedom of Christ. Hope that is uninhibited, uncontrolled, unrestrained, and unlimited. Hope steeped in the prayers of the ancestors, optimism of children, and wildest dreams of all. A freedom that leads to the Holy Spirit equipping us through God’s love poured into our hearts.
This hope, an unbridled one, shall guide us in our work to bring heaven to earth. A hope that sees the image of God in us all, embodies and exudes divine love for humanity, evoking us to perform acts of righteousness on the behalf of each other, and embark upon the journey full of hope - unbridled - despite suffering.
“Walk together, children, don’t you get weary,
Sing together, children, don’t you get weary,
Pray together, children, don’t you get weary,
Work together, children, don’t you get weary!”
Let us pray.
God, who is eternal and ever present, guide us, indwell us, and sustain us with unbridled hope amid our various trials and suffering. Amen.