Chris Sharp, Assistant Professor (Mechanical Engineering)

In times such as these, it is easy to drown in the seemingly endless swirl of negative, dismal and downright gloomy state of current events. However, when we consider our existence in light of tragedies throughout history, there must be a way to survive. Somehow society has persisted. But how? Right now we are all stuck, isolated from our communities, dependent on Zoom, and … wait … did I lose you?

Can you hear me? … How about now? 

Are you muted? … Don’t forget to turn your video on!

Oh, there you are again. I thought I’d lost you for a minute. Where was I? Right. How do we get through this? I was recently studying through Romans and came across a section of verses at the beginning of Chapter 5 that spoke to me in light of our Zoom-driven existence. Which, if you’re like me, can’t end soon enough. I wasn’t a huge fan of video communication before, and I haven’t been converted yet. Give me a cup of tea and a coffee shop – please! Anyhow …

In the first five verses of Romans 5 there are three “little” words spread throughout the passage: faith, hope and love. As the end of 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, “These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” The emphasis on love in this verse makes sense given the chapter, but why these other two concepts? Specifically in light of our present, can we hear some more about this hope? 

Cue Romans 5:1-5! 

In this passage, there are several aspects of these three words that I have found personally helpful in our current state of existence. And to be clear, I’m not claiming to have a succinct answer. I’m not sure how often those even exist, but what I’ve learned from my pursuit of relationship with Jesus is that as we dive into areas that stretch our understanding in pursuit of him, he shows up! (Also, I’m generally a verbose processor, so succinct is challenging for me.) With that mindset, expecting Jesus to meet us, let’s dive in. 

The first thing that I notice is faith. In Romans 5:1, we see faith as a foundation. Where there’s a “therefore” it’s “there for” a reason. Looking at the prior chapter, Romans 4, we see that, to be considered righteous, we believe God (Romans 4:3). That process is faith and, as Ephesians 2 tells us, is the foundation of salvation and righteousness. Believe that God is who he says is and that he will do what he says he will do (Exodus 34:6-7). This is the foundation.

To make it through this time, or any time really, we must believe God. Why? Well, to experience in fullness the hope and love that follows, it is an absolute necessity. But, if you’re like me, believing is sometimes challenging! Fortunately, God knows we are human and knows our struggles and doubts. Despite those, he is running toward us, showing us that it doesn’t take much faith. When the prodigal son was chillin’ with the pigs, he still had his doubts, but his father showed up in grand form when his son came trudging home, head hanging low (Luke 15). Trust God, to whatever extent you can, and you will find him running to you as well.

So, with whatever amount of faith we have, let’s move into the discussion on hope. At one point in my life, I greatly appreciated the seemingly linear generation of hope shown in Romans 5. I am an engineer after all – structure is a beautiful thing, and I hadn’t seen much “affliction” yet in life. However, having experienced a bit more life and looking a little deeper into the passage, I’ve found that it’s not quite as structured as I initially thought. Specifically the phrase, “rejoice in our afflictions” takes on a whole new meaning in light of this COVID-19 situation. Lack of community, lost jobs, economic downturn, and even death are just a few of the afflictions being felt around the world. What used to be a relatively rote passage for me now takes on a new perspective.

Believe God – check. Access to grace – I’m on board. Rejoice in hope of God’s glory – sounds reasonable. Rejoice in affliction – wait a hot second. We are supposed to rejoice with all that’s happening now? And thinking about it a little more, the result of this rejoicing is “hope.” Now, you’re probably saying, “And … ?” But hear me out. In short, we are being instructed to rejoice while afflicted because it will result in something that is, by definition, uncertain. Uncertain! And there goes my hope for structure. All of a sudden this passage on hope seems to have potentially just lost its hopefulness. Thank Jesus, the passage isn’t over.

Continuing on, we see why love is, in fact, the greatest. 

Hope requires uncertainty. Without uncertainty, it wouldn’t be hope. But unlike all our hopes that have let us down throughout life, this hope promises to never disappoint. A bold statement to be sure, but from what I’ve seen, God seems to be in the habit of making (and backing up) pretty bold claims throughout history. Creating the world, giving Abraham a child, freeing the Israelites from Egypt, and, lest I fail to mention, becoming human, dying and conquering death. Did you catch those last few? God became human, died and conquered death! This is where the trifecta of faith, hope and love come together. Faith and hope are nothing without God’s love being “poured out in our hearts” (Romans 5:5). While hope does indeed require uncertainty, God’s love is what assures us in that uncertainty and can even bring beauty to the ambiguity. Yes, God says to believe him and hope in his glory without fully knowing his infiniteness, but he has also been reinforcing his goodness since the beginning of time. Good isn’t just in his nature; it is his nature (Psalms 145:9). 

I realize that I haven’t necessarily given a clean answer. With hope, there really isn’t one. But Romans tells us to rejoice in hope of God’s glory and to rejoice in our sufferings because it will result in more hope. While I might not know what is in store next for our world or for my own life, I do know that God loved me enough to conquer death. So with the faith that I have, I will rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. When he walked out of the tomb to have a relationship with me, his glory was revealed in a way that can’t help but elicit hope. And I will also choose to rejoice during these times of affliction – the beginning of a process that will result in more revelation of his character. To be clear, I’m not saying that we should rejoice that COVID-19 happened, but rather that we can rejoice in God’s redemptive nature. 

My encouragement is this: Lean into the uncertainty of hoping in Jesus – his good and restorative nature has been shown time and time again. When we step out in faith into the uncertainty of hoping in him, we will experience his love in a new and fresh way. And fortunately, this isn’t my opinion. It’s his promise.

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