“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Romans 5:3-5 (Common English Bible)
Covid-19 has produced among us a mood of calamity, discouragement, and despair. A vast structure of optimism that social distancing, wearing facemasks, and the summer heat would defeat the virus is quickly becoming dismantled. The epicenter of our nation’s infection has simply moved from the City of New York to encompass California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Any sense that the ravages of this virus would soon “disappear” has now dissipated. Dr. Anthony Fauci just recently expressed optimism that we may defeat this virus in as “little” as 12 to 18 months. We have a long battle ahead in our nation. Who today escapes the problem of wanting hope, but on every side seeing the collapse of hope?
If today, then, we are to grasp hope, we must rethink our way of getting it. These words from Paul’s letter to the Roman Church provide help: “we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” What is striking in these few words is that Paul’s navigation to the place of hope is by another way than the route we have grown accustom. An easy-going optimism is the road we have traveled well. Only, that route now disappoints.
What Paul speaks of may be heard more clearly in the guidance I received early from my personal trainer, Bill Dorton. As Bill constructed a personalized training program for my particular needs, he summed-up what would be involved: He would place before me multiple challenges that would resist my effort. Through my effort I would build strength upon strength to meet the resistance. Over time, the meeting of that challenge of the opposing resistance would develop muscle, burn fat, and body tone would appear. Once I began to notice the change in my body – both in strength and in physical tone – I would increasing grow hopeful of a better quality of life. I don’t know if Bill was aware that he was taking a page from Paul’s playbook: “trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
Optimism can be cheap. To recline and engage in wishful thinking for better days simply results in defeat. Paul calls us to meet the present trouble as someone in physical training meets the resistance of the weights in a gym. Yet, notice, we are not alone. Paul concludes his thoughts on the matter by declaring that the Holy Spirit has been given to us. As I train in a gym with the guidance, and strength, and encouragement of my trainer, so God comes alongside us in the Holy Spirit. When our own strength is insufficient, the Holy Spirit joins our grip on the training bar. When we grow discouraged, the Holy Spirit whispers encouragement. And when we are in trouble, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are not alone. Because “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts” we are not beaten. Our victory remains just ahead.