On Friday Debs and I attended a “Quiet Day” which was hosted locally by an organisation called “Hope Weavers“. It was a great opportunity to get away from our day to day responsibilities and have some down time with the Lord. For the most part this was an opportunity to have sacred space, Debs did some creative things while I (who am infamously non-creative except when it comes to DIY) spent some time in the Bible thinking about Hope once more.
The day began with some prayers and included a reading from Romans 8:24-26 and to cut a long story short, Romans 8:14-30 is where I spent my time on Friday morning. At that time I was feeling frustrated and struggling again with the uncertainty which for me has come to characterise this current phase of transition. Romans 8 helped me to see that there is much that is not ‘how it should be’ and much that is not ‘what it will one day be’. Paul says that all of creation has been “subjected to frustration” (v20) and is eagerly longing for its “liberation from bondage to decay” (v21) when the creation itself will be brought into the “glorious freedom and glory of the children of God” (v21). Indeed he says that the creation (us included) wait in “eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (v19).
19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
At the start of this section in v18 Paul writes “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Isn’t that fascinating, Paul is able to say that his present sufferings where not even worth the comparison because such glory will be beyond comprehension. Are we eagerly eagerly expecting the “children of God to be revealed” (v19)? John describes this time as follows;
“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2
Creation Paul says was subjected ‘in hope’; not a faint-hearted, wishful thinking kind of hope but a solid, firm and secure hope. How much do we long for such liberation for ourselves, for humanity, for the entire creation? Paul describes it like the pains of child-birth; expectancy is ever increasing but it is also increasingly painful waiting for the main event! It is in this context that Paul writes that in this hope we were saved. Saved in Hope. Saved through Hope. Saved for Hope. This is a hope which transforms us in the present but which is rooted in the future. It is a hope which inspires us, motivates us and encourages us here and now. Is this our hope?
Then Paul says 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Why is a seen hope, a false hope? I guess that hope by nature is something we want to see but cannot see, something we want to happen but which has not happened or something we want to see change that has not yet changed. Surely as Paul says there is no reason to hope for what we already have. Hope is rooted in the “not yet” and so we wait patiently.
I am however a terrible wait-er. I am the kind of person who paces if something or someone is late or even simply not-yet happened. This is a time of waiting for me personally but it is also a time of waiting for us all as we wait and look forward to Jesus’ return. Paul has been trying to hold in balance sufferings with the notion of hope. He had been holding together whatever it was he had been experiencing with his hope for the future. In this passage he is putting together the big picture of why we were saved and what we were saved for and the answer he is getting is hope. It is a hope that he waits for patiently.
The next verse (v26) says “in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. The next few verses speak of how the Spirit helps us to pray but the words “in the same way” got me thinking that just as the Spirit “helps us in our weakness” so Hope also “helps us in our weakness.” How does hope help us in our weakness? In light of Romans 8 I think it helps us think about ‘the why’, ‘the how’ and ‘the what’ we have been saved from, to and for. Things are not as they should be and as we wait for Jesus’ return there will be suffering, hardship, loss and pain. Yet as Paul says none of this is ‘worth comparing’ to the glory that will be revealed in us. This is a glory that according to v17 goes hand in hand with suffering; 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
In the second instalment of my Bible study series on Hope (coming soon) I refer to a number of quotations from Christian literature which help us think about the fact that God is not in a hurry and wants to use our pain and our waiting to grow our faith:
“Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” Philip Yancey
“I did not realise, however, that God wanted more than to simply remove my pain; he wanted to use it. God never wastes your pain; before He removes it, He makes it serve you.” Dutch Sheets
“The opposite of impatience is not a glib denial of loss. It’s a deepening, ripening, peaceful, willingness to wait for God in the unplanned place of obedience, and to walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience – to wait in his place, and go at his pace.” John Piper
Hindsight is indeed a great thing but it is not something that we enjoy while we are in the midst of our tough times. The Message version translates v24-25 as “…waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. We of course don’t see how the waiting enlarges us but we’re told here that the longer we wait the larger we become and the more joyful our expectancy. It is in this context that we read v28-30;
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
God has a plan for our waiting; He is not in a hurry. Suffering goes hand in hand with glory and glory is what God is working towards. It won’t be easy. It certainly won’t be painless but in the big picture (which according to Yancey only makes sense in reverse) it will all be worth it. In that sense our sufferings here and now are of no comparison whatsoever to what will be revealed in us. So what God seemed to be saying to me on Friday was that He is at work in our waiting, in our pain and in our uncertainty. He wants to use it to serve us, to grow us and as part of His plan to transform us into the likeness of Christ. So now the challenge for me (as well as for you) is to hope, not in what we have, not in what we can see but in what is unseen, in what is ‘not yet’. That hope is more amazing than we could ever comprehend – it is a hope that is by nature ‘futuristic’ but transforms us in the here and now. In the words of Edmund Clowney “Our hope is anchored in the past: Jesus rose! Our hope remains in the present: Jesus lives! Our hope is completed in the future: Jesus is coming.”
When I stepped into God’s presence, into His sanctuary all of my struggles, all of the pain we have been through and all of the uncertainty that we find ourselves presently wading through take on a new perspective. The Psalmist writes “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). I close with a poem that concluded our time at Hope Weavers and which was particularly poignant on the subject of ‘waiting’…
You keep us waiting.
You, the God of all time,
want us to wait for the right time
in which to discover who we are,
where we are to go,
who will be with us, and what we must do.
So thank you… for the waiting time.
You keep us looking.
You, the God of all space,
want us to look in the right and wrong places
for signs of hope, for people who are hopeless,
for visions of a better world which will appear
among the disappointments of the world we know.
So thank you… for the looking time.
You keep us loving.
You, the God whose name is love,
want us to be like you-
to love the loveless and the unlovely and the unlovable;
to love without jealousy or design or threat;
and, most difficult of all, to love ourselves.
So thank you… for the loving time.
And in all this, you keep us.
Through hard questions with no easy answers;
through failing where we hoped to succeed
and making an impact when we felt we were useless;
through the patience and the dreams and the love of others;
and through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, you keep us.
So thank you… for the keeping time,
and for now, and for ever, Amen.
John Bell (Iona Community)