By David Baumann
Reading from Romans, 5:1-11
1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and 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.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
There are several places in Paul’s writings where he presents a chain of events or attitudes, each one dependent on the one before, so that the first item named leads to the consummation of his list. Today’s reading has one of those lists. Paul begins with suffering and ends with a hope that does not disappoint. One may think of a long line of dominos or the children’s game “Mousetrap.”
Thing is, at any point in those chains there is the possibility that there will be a “glitch” that will put an unwanted stop to the advance. In Paul’s arguments, the chain he describes calls for the proper attitude of the individual believer at every step. Does suffering inevitably lead to endurance? No; it can also lead to a collapse if the sufferer allows life to be subsumed in bitter complaint, anger, or despair. Does endurance inevitably produce character? No; it can also lead to conceit, self-reliance, hardness of heart, and emotional fragility. Does character inevitably produce hope? No; it can also lead to complacency, vanity, or short-sightedness.
But note that the danger of falling aside is more obvious in the beginning; that is, the most critical part of the chain is how the individual will deal with suffering. Handle suffering well, and it becomes easier to move along the chain. But then the possibility of falling aside becomes more subtle. If suffering produced anger, that would be obvious. But if endurance produced self-reliance, well, that’s more difficult to discern. We must always keep the true end of the chain in mind: the reason we develop our character into Christ’s, the reason hope does not disappoint, is “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 45 years, 39 of them in the Diocese of Los Angeles. He now serves as part-time priest in southern Illinois. He has published devotions, articles, and essays, as well as science fiction novels and short stories.
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