I will delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in Jerusalem, or the cry of distress. - Isaiah 65:19
Rejoice in hope. - Romans 12:12
Two-year reading texts: Psalm 22:9-21; 2 Chronicles 14,15; Acts 20:32-21:4
We all love a message of hope! But we can only understand the power of hope within the context of real hardship. Today's verse from Isaiah 65 comes near the end of one of the longest books of the Bible, full of back-and-forth tides of sin / warning / consequences and forgiveness / hope / restoration. Our hopeful little snippet from Romans 12:12 is followed by the rest of the verse: "Be patient in suffering. Persevere in prayer."
The dynamic of hardship vs. hope also appears in today's longer readings. Psalm 22 contains two "voices," one crying out in despair, the other lifting up hope. In the 2 Chronicles story of King Asa, his smaller army defeats the Ethiopians by trusting in God, but his later alliance with the Arameans (instead of relying on God) results in more war. Paul, near the end of his story in the book of Acts, is repeatedly warned that he's in danger, but his faithfulness to God's message keeps leading him forward.
Faith in God is more than a soothing lotion to put on a sore spot. One - sometimes valid - criticism of religion is that it can be used to gloss over real suffering and need in the world. "Don't worry about it, God will get you through this." This attitude can be, and has been, used to distract people from wrongs in the world and sap their energy for doing anything about them.
Real faith acknowledges both hardship and hope. It comes with warnings as well as messages of comfort. When it's our own pride or thoughtlessness or sinfulness that leads us toward trouble, God confronts and challenges us. The consequences of our actions come back to bite us and bring us pain. When danger comes at the hands of someone else, God's word is not to be a doormat, but to look for justice, work for righteousness, rely on the resources God provides to improve the situation. "Be patient in suffering" means more than rolling over and taking it, but also "persevering in prayer" to continue seeking the best from God, even in the midst of pain and trouble.
The image that comes to mind is of God as a crossing guard! The aim is to keep us healthy and whole and safe and together. Sometimes the red STOP sign is faced toward us, and it's our responsibility to pay attention, pick up the sign, and come to a stop. It's inconvenient and slows things down, and it means giving up control to someone who's in the position to know things better than us. But even then, if we're willing, we pick up on the hope of making healthy progress. Listening and following the direction of the crossing guard helps ensure that we'll live to repeat the process tomorrow. We know that when the time is right, the sign will turn, and we'll move ahead.
Thank you, Lord, for preparing a way for us, and for watching over it. Help us to walk in your ways, follow your guidance, and move together toward the goal. Show us your love, so that we can trust in you every day.