Muscular Hope

"We usually do not think of Saint Paul as a sentimental man, and it would be a wild stretch of the imagination to mention him in the same breath as the Belle of Amherst and her version of hope as 'the thing with feathers,' but could her hope be that hope of which Paul speaks in Romans 5? He writes:

"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and 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 that has been given to us.

"The Revised English Bible translates Romans 5:5 as: 'Such hope is no fantasy.'

"Boasting in a hope that does not disappoint and is no fantasy is the kind of hope upon which we can depend, and that is the hope that Paul offers.

"Dietrich Bonhoeffer once warned against cheap grace, and I warn now against cheap hope. Hope is not merely the optimistic view that somehow everything will turn out all right in the end if everyone just does as we do. Hope is the more rugged, the more muscular view that even if things don't turn out all right and aren't all right, we endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us. Something of the quality of that hope is found when the psalmist asks, 'Why are you cast down, 0 my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.'

"Muscular hope such as that of which Saint Paul speaks to the Romans comes with a price, and usually suffering and privation are involved. This kind of hope requires work, effort, and expenditure without the assurance of an easy or ready return. Paul's sequence reminds us of this: we pass from sufferings that are not avoided to endurance, which is the quality that allows us to keep on when it would be easier to quit. The process of enduring produces character, that inner quality not to be confused with image or reputation that is who we are when no one is looking. It is from character that hope is produced. This is where the old aphorism comes from that says, 'Show me what you hope for, and I will know who you are.'

"Hope can seem a wimpy word, and it can be as flaccid as the typical Advent service, yet if we remember, as Paul reminds us, that genuine hope, a hope worth having, is forged upon the anvil of adversity, and that hope and suffering are related through the formation of character, then we will realize that hope is much more than mere optimism. Hope is the stuff that gets us through and beyond when the worst that can happen happens."