(Appeared first in March 2011, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
We know that suffering produces … hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.—Romans 5:3b-5 (TNIV)
We … groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.—Romans 8:23-24a (TNIV)
Since we live in a country committed to the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it seems upside down to imagine that suffering could in any way produce hope. It runs against the grain of our imagined universe.
Yet in the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul declares that the groans of God’s people echo the deep groans of the whole creation. Along with the rest of the created order, humans struggle for release from the bondage to decay.
As Christians, we believe that God’s reality stretches far beyond the reach of the most highly trained human mind or eye. We harbor the hope that beyond the visible pain and suffering of the world, God’s invisible hand is bringing about a new creation. This hope is much more than a wish, more than a wager that things will turn out well in the end. It is based on what we have already heard and seen.
This was implicit in the ideas that Cheryl Bridges Johns shared with attendees at Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s School for Leadership Training in mid-January. A Pentecostal pastor, scholar and ecumenist, Johns made the case that Pentecost is but the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit’s work to bring about a new creation. It is the Spirit who translates our wordless groans of pain into prayers of intercession, who enlivens our dulled and cynical existence with the enchanted wonder of a child and who empowers and transforms us to become a different kind of people.
Through the ministry of the Spirit in our lives, the grace of God enables us to live hopefully amid the troubles of the world. As Paul Scott Wilson says it, “trouble + grace = hope, where grace > trouble.”
In the midst of pain and suffering, our hope is not merely nurtured by human longing, reason or endeavor. Our hope is built on the multifaceted ways that God meets us in the midst of trouble. It is built on the confidence that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
From time to time, I have asked people when they felt most loved by God or closest to God. Almost inevitably, they speak of ways that God “showed up” in times of deepest need.
Grace lies at the very core of the Christian gospel. Grace (especially in its offer of forgiveness to an offender) is what makes Christian faith unique among world religions. Therefore, the uniqueness of Christian hope lies in recognition of God’s grace. Grace is the common thread that runs from Christian conversion through formation, transformation and redemptive social action in the midst of the troubles of the world.
The story of Mennonite Disaster Service is eloquently foreshadowed in the title: The Hammer Rings Hope. We bring hope to others when our work aligns with the work of God in the world.
As Christians, we believe that our ultimate hope for the future lies in the grace of God as expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We invest in that hope by casting ourselves on God in the midst of suffering, pain and despair. And by God’s grace, the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.