Updated: Oct 13, 2020
I saw this phrase in an interview with N.T. Wright and it embodied a flood of feelings and thoughts that have been swirling in my mind as we are confronted with the brokenness of our world. Like anyone, the headlines and news that we see minute by minute are too much for any one person to handle. It can be all-consuming, it can make us numb, and it can make us anxious and angry. Is there relief for our weary souls, bodies, and minds?
There once was a man named Saul, a persecutor of Christians and a Jesus-skeptic, who had an encounter with the person called Jesus. This encounter was so revolutionary that Saul changed his name and completely changed everything about his life, work, and belief system. Years later, Paul wrote in a letter to the Romans about having hope in the midst of suffering. At this point, maybe you are thinking that Paul does not deserve to tell Christians to hope—for he once caused the suffering that Christians were longing to be rid of.
Or maybe you think of Jesus as just a good man or a good teacher. But it’s too much to consider that Jesus could be alive today and that one day he will make all the wrongs right and all things new. This was the case for Paul as well. He did not believe in the risen Christ. He was a skeptic. And it took him coming face to face with Jesus in order for him to believe. This man, who once killed those who believed in the very person who appeared before him, had no other choice but to turn from his disbelief and acknowledge the reality of Jesus. What we can know is that something about this encounter was so compelling that it made a man who wanted nothing to do with Jesus join the very group of people that he was persecuting, making himself vulnerable to the very same persecution and suffering he was inflicting on others.
It was through Jesus that Paul was given hope in the midst of suffering. Maybe you want hope without the suffering, without the pain, and without groaning. Yet, we know that this is not our reality. We see suffering and we experience it. We medicate our pain away, we meditate our reality away, and we stuff our groans in the darkest parts of our being because they don’t align with our picture of what faith should look like.
But I don’t believe that that is the type of hope Paul was talking about. Paul did not shy away from being honest about this world and the pain that comes with it. We aren’t forced to shove away each feeling of despair, instead, we are called to come crawling on our knees to the one who longs to carry each burden, each longing, each pain—even when we don’t have the words to put to our feelings.
Paul shows us that the hope that Jesus offers us is compelling. This hope answers every longing in our hearts and minds for things to be made right. We can look at our present world and see the brokenness and still know that one day we will live in a world that is fully restored. As we wait in hope, we do so with patience because it is not easy, but gritty.