We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endur-ance, 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 which has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
I was caught by this section in yesterday's scripture reading - how Paul sees that the end of suffering may result in the capacity to be full of hope. This is true, he says, not because we ourselves become more hopeful, but that we are filled more and more with the spirit of hope, which is the spirit of love. As he will say in that well-known section describing love (1 Corinthians 13) "Love always hopes."
Here is my own paraphrase of this section of Romans 5, followed by segments of Romans 8 and snippets of Psalms.
Our faith in God’s love (demonstrated to us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection) has restored our connection to God, the All-Powerful Spirit of Love. We realize now that we are meant to share in the life and love of God. And when suffering comes our way, we understand that it is meant to strengthen us and to form us into people in whom the Spirit has more and more room to act. As we take on God's ways of thinking and acting, we become ever more hopeful of God’s purposes being accomplished, not only in our lives, but also in the world around us. We become convinced that all is well, and that all shall be well, for we are grounded in God’s love.
So when we meet suffering and hardship, we know how to make sense of them. We know that they come, not to keep us from God, but to bring us nearer to God. And God is at work in us and around us to bring us into fullness of life. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-love. Who or what can come against this powerful, wise, loving presence? God is for us, doesn’t condemn us, nor want us to be filled with guilt or shame. Indeed, far from condemning us, Jesus is right now sending us his love, his grace, his mercy, his joy so that we are able to merge even more with the loving presence of the Trinity. Nothing can separate us from this love. It is above us, around us and in us. We are drinking from this love, dancing in this love, pouring out this love. We are of God, and like, a mother, she does not forget her offspring. We are the bride of Christ, and as true of any beloved, he holds us in his heart. We are the dwelling place of the Spirit of love, and Spirit flame burns bright enough to overcome any darkness.
We are of God, we are in God, God is in us. This Advent season, let us be people of love. Let us be people of hope.