May the God of hope… (how to endure when life is hard)

My dad died on 7th November 2020. His death was tragic and unexpected. While this is not the first bereavement I have suffered, I have never experienced death feeling so close. So scary. So final. To be honest, it has felt like my life will never move on from its current perpetually sad state.

Even if you are not presently enduring an acute moment of suffering, 2020 has been a difficult year, for all of us. None of us have escaped the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. And for all the talk of normality resuming in 2021 once the COVID-19 vaccine has been rolled out, I think, deep down, we all know that the world has changed. Or rather that the world is fundamentally changing, and an uncertain future awaits us. At times, it can all feel overwhelming.

While the death of my dad feels like an insurmountable source of grief in my own life, I know many of us are shouldering our own tragedies and specific heartaches. There is an odd fellowship of suffering. My family has received so many wonderful cards and expressions of sympathy, love and care. But far too many of them contain stories of similar journeys of darkness and pain.

Perhaps, like me, you are living with deep hurt. How can we continue to live when life feels so hard? What source of strength can we draw from that guides us through our bleakest moments?

In these dark days, when my capacity for pretty much everything feels so reduced, there is a comfort in mulling over bite-sized chunks of nourishing theological truth. Our limitedness never takes God by surprise. He is good and caring and kind. So, we can take time to percolate on deep and simple truths that will sustain us.

Allow me share with you one particular Bible verse that has shone like a beacon of light in to my own circumstances. It’s short enough to memorise, and its constituent parts can each be savoured.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

May the God… This is a good place to start. With the wonderful realisation that there is a God, and that we can call out to him in prayer. This verse is a prayer of the Apostle Paul. It is settled in the middle of the penultimate chapter of the book of Romans. It is a book that reminds us of the reality of God’s existence, and of his activity in the world. His purpose is to draw a people to himself. This group is not made up of the virtuous or the self-sufficient. Not the successful, nor the morally superior. Not the overcomers, nor the strong. But those who can only cling to the righteousness of Christ. This people is made up of the weak and broken-hearted. Those who recognise that they have nothing to offer God but the acceptance of his mercy and grace that he freely offers to us through Jesus Christ.

May the God of hope… Not only can we call on God, but he is known as the God of hope. There is hope because he is not a passive distant unknowable deity who demands perfection from us. He is personal and active. He himself has made a way for us to approach him. There is hope because of Jesus. Because he has already won for us a crown of salvation through his death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification. There is hope because he has promised to return.

…fill you with all joy and peace… In times of deep grief these feel unattainable. How can we speak of joy and peace when both feel so far away? Yet this is a petition. These are the things that we can ask God to give to us. Joy is not to be confused with happiness and moments of celebration, though it is present in both. Joy can penetrate our deepest darkness. Peace shouldn’t be compatible with turmoil. Yet, even in the middle of the storm, we can experience and rest in it. Joy and peace can be found in knowing that our present predicaments will not last. Our sufferings are destined to perish with the old order of things when all is made new again. The foundation of our joy and peace is the past, present and future work of our redeeming and restoring God.

…as you trust in him… We are called to an active faith. The virtues of endurance and perseverance are only earned through times of pain and suffering. Faith is not a resource that we gather and horde. Faith is trust, and it is only as strong as the object/person you place it in. I can have as much faith as I like that a chair made of rotten wood will support my weight. But it will collapse the moment I sit on it. But a chair made out of reinforced steel? That will take my weight no matter how little faith I have. Surely there is no better time to put your trust in God than when all else is failing around you?

…so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. At a time when we can feel so useless. When days pass where it feels like all that we’ve done is spent hours crying, our minds filled with thoughts of mourning. Here is a promise that even in these hard times our lives can be a witness to many. And, most beautifully of all, this is not something we need to try hard to conjure ourselves. This is something that is given to us by God himself. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that works in and through us that overflows to others. It is precisely when we are at our weakest that God’s strength is most obvious. God’s grace is sufficient for you, for his power is made perfect in our weakness.

I hope that you find these thoughts as comforting as I have. Questions plague me. It all, still, seems so unreal. Yet I can live day by day with a hope that is rooted in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and has its gaze firmly fixed on a glorious future with him.