I recall many times when hope has disappointed me. I vividly remember hoping to get a position on my college ministry’s leadership team my freshman year, and then not making the cut. That was eleven years ago, and I remember how that disappointment felt—the tears that fell, the anger that burned. That’s why we have the phrase, “Don’t get your hopes up.” When your hopes are up, you are vulnerable to disappointment.
So Paul must be talking about a different kind of hope here. He says “that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Paul’s both upholding hope and acknowledging suffering. I know people who remained hopeful as they suffered through cancer, but their hope was ultimately disappointing.
What is this hope of Paul’s? A brief survey of others’ ideas shows some think this is hope for an eternity spent in heaven with God. That interpretation doesn’t seem to fit the text; I find no hinting at eternity in heaven in this section of Scripture. I don’t think this is hope for anything.
I think Paul is saying we can have hope in all situations, in suffering, against all odds, because we have two things: love in our hearts and the gift of the Holy Spirit. God has put love in our hearts and given us the capacity to love him and his people. Our capacity to love can break our hearts, bring us to tears, and leave us speechless. In another famous letter, Paul says love always hopes. I think the love in our hearts is worthy of hope.
The second reason we can hope is the Holy Spirit. God sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, to pray on our behalf, to guide us. That’s quite a gift, and one worthy of hope. When we suffer, the Holy Spirit is with us. When we cannot find the words to utter to God, the Holy Spirit does it for us. When we don’t know what decision to make, the Holy Spirit prompts us.
God, may I be hopeful today, not because of my life circumstances or beautiful weather or the people around me, but because you have put love in my heart and the Holy Spirit in my life. Thank you that I can love. Forgive me for not loving the way you do. Thank you for the direction and presence of the Holy Spirit. May I follow your promptings, being obedient and faithful. Amen.