As many of you probably have, I’ve struggled to keep a good thought in what has proven to be a challenging year. Between the Great and Holy Council, and the US Presidential election, there has been a constant stream of news (both Church and secular) to follow and to worry about. And even now, the innocent continue to die in the streets both at home and abroad, and politicians continue to bicker.
In need of some guidance, I opened up the Bible and found Chapter 8 of Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. As is often the case, this was exactly what I needed to read. I needed to be reminded that there is always hope in Christ: that there is hope regardless of our present circumstances.
So what did I read in the book of Romans that gave me strength? What was it that helped me not to ignore the suffering and injustices of this world, but to find courage instead of despair even in the midst of it all?
1. Fear not, God is our Father
“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, father.’” Romans 8:15
In our baptism, we were adopted as sons and daughters of God. What Jesus shares with the Father by nature, we get to share by grace as a gift. We have the privilege of calling out “Abba!” (Baba or Papa) to the creator of the universe. God is not some distant impersonal force out there; God the Father is our guide, our protection, and our cause of joy. We may experience fear, but we are not alone. Our Father is holding us close to Himself. As a father embraces his child during a thunderstorm, giving them faith that they are safe, so too our Heavenly Father embraces us with His protection.
So when the temptation comes to worry about what will happen next, remember that we did not receive a spirit of fear. Our fear cannot fix this broken world. But a spirit of peace might be just what people need.
2. Suffering will come, but so will glory
“The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
Church history shows us that following Christ does not guarantee an easy or physically blessed life. What the Church reminds us though, over and over through the life of the saints, is that suffering in this life does not compare with the glory that will come through unity with Jesus Christ.
We may not be able to control the circumstances that come our way or the evils in the world, but if we are united to Jesus Christ, we will have already found the source of joy to endure whatever it is we face. The world will not be able to knock us off of our feet if we are already firmly grounded in Him. With Christ as our anchor, we will be able to endure the pain we feel watching the news, the frustration of an election year, the suffering that we personally encounter.
3. We have an active hope
“The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Romans 8:22
“We eagerly wait for it [the redemption of our body] with perseverance.” Romans 8:23, 25
Not only do we await the redemption and resurrection of our bodies (as we confess in the Creed), but all of creation is awaiting this future glorification and renewal with Christ. So what does that mean for our world today? It reminds us that we await something better, that even though the quality of life, technology and medicine have improved over the centuries, sin and death still rule. While we get a foretaste of the kingdom in this life, we still look to a moment when all of this world (with its imperfect people and imperfect politics) will be redeemed.
So how can we have this active, persevering sort of hope? Well, have you ever seen a dog wait patiently for a treat? He never takes his eyes off his master and obeys him with eagerness to gain the prize. I should be as eager for God’s grace in my life as a dog is for his treat.
4. We are weak, God is strong
“The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or family, or nakedness or peril or sword?...Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 38-39
When I am stuck in worry about the state of the world, when I find myself impassioned over the fate of our country or of Christians in the Middle East, I am acting as if I have the power to solve these problems on my own. I can only despair because I become aware of my own weakness. Instead of turning to God in prayer, I turn to worry. But Saint Paul reminds us that even when we do not know the words to say, the Holy Spirit will help us direct our hearts and minds to Him. God’s power is “made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9) precisely because we can’t get anything done if we rely on our own perceived strength; we can only experience God’s strength if we acknowledge our own limitations.
What can separate us from the love of Christ? Absolutely nothing. Except maybe our pride. But when we are weak, God is strong.
It is good to be upset about and not numb to the injustice, the death, and the pain our world experiences. It is good that we see the imperfections of a world that isn’t rooted in the hope of the Gospel. But instead of turning inwards through despair or turning outwards in anger or resentment, we must turn up to God in prayer first. In prayer, God might even reveal what we can do to be a tool of His grace in this world so much in need of Christ’s presence.
Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.
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