Over time, in different settings and on this blog, I have commented repeatedly on Romans 8. It’s one of those passages to which I keep returning to find fresh encouragement, especially with respect to the nature of hope. These days, I need that encouragement, as I talk with friends and family who are struggling with chronic illness, physical pain, and the death of loved ones. As I recently mused to my wife, the future seems to hold more funerals than weddings.
And then there’s just the small matter of getting older, and feeling my body run down. Overall, I’m in relatively good health and reasonable shape, though I might hasten to add the silent qualifier, “for a man of my age.” But I’m not the Energizer Bunny, and my body seems to betray me now and again.
Here are a couple of examples from this past week alone. I got an intense leg cramp that left my right calf sore for three days–and I hadn’t even gotten out of bed. The next day, I sprained my wrist, albeit only slightly. I wish I could say that it was because I was attempting to bench press some ridiculously manly amount of weight. But no. Sadly, I was just washing the dishes (OK, it was a big dish…).
That’s why I sometimes quip, a little wryly: Yep, I sure am looking forward to that resurrection body. So are a lot of other people I know, and for reasons far more serious than mine.
But I’ve recently begun to realize how much these complaints control my reading of Romans 8, of what Paul says about groaning and hope. I’ve not paid enough attention to what now jumps off the page at me: that our hope is not merely about waiting for “our bodies to be set free,” as the Common English Bible translates it, but waiting for the full completion of our adoption as God’s children (vs. 23).
Paul writes, “We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:24-25, CEB). It’s the last word that’s always bothered me: “patience.” I understand that by definition, we don’t hope for things we already see (or “have” in the NIV). We have to wait. But patiently?
Obviously, Paul doesn’t think of patience in a way that precludes groaning. But neither does it mean teeth-gritting endurance nor stoic resignation. The question of patient hope is this: am I living the life of the Spirit in such a way that by that Spirit, I already know myself to be a child of God?
More on that in the next post.