One passage of scripture that has impacted me in recent years is this prayer from Paul for the churches in Rome:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This one sentence can jolt us awake and give us much to dwell on, if we allow it to. Two phrases are especially stirring for me. I’m struck first by the idea of the ‘God of hope’. What does it mean to follow the God of hope, at a time when many seem to prefer a ‘God of moral indignation’, or a ‘God of retribution’, or even a ‘God of fear’? Pursuing a God of hope must alter the actions we take, the ways we speak, the prayers we pray.
Second, Paul wants Christians in Rome (and all Christians) to ‘abound in hope’. His phrase paints a picture of a person so saturated with hope that it spills out and is readily shared with others. Paul certainly had no sense of this hope being neatly and quietly contained within the believers’ clubhouse.
No, we are meant to be people of hope! So how can we become people of hope to the world?
How do we become people of hope, when millions of Syrians and Iraqis – ordinary men, women and children – have been left stateless, homeless and destitute? The lukewarm response from our governments and the cold and downright aggressive response of hard-line anti-immigration movements must make our countries appear about as welcoming as steel-reinforced bunkers, surrounded by minefields and electrified fences topped with razor wire.
Will we raise our voices to question our governments’ slow and lacklustre admittance of a few thousand refugees? Will we put out the ‘Welcome’ mat and resist those who would rather hang out a ‘Trespassers Will be Prosecuted’ sign? Are we willing to open up, not just our borders, but our homes to those who have been left with nothing?
How do we live as people of hope as the current U.S. election is drawing to a close, and the likely outcome looms as a spectre of imminent doom for many of our sisters and brothers? They envision the dawning of a Godless dystopia that would make even George Orwell shudder. The dark lord Sauron himself, in possession of the One Ring, would seemingly be a more palatable option (‘I don’t necessarily approve of his will to dominate all life, but I know he’ll keep our borders secure’, we can imagine someone saying) than the prospect facing the nation.
Is this what ‘abounding in hope’ looks like? Or can we instead pledge to cooperate with and challenge the government of the day, whatever the affiliation, to protect and provide for those on the margins of our societies, the powerless, the vulnerable, the sick, the poor, the outcasts?
How do we act as people of hope where there is increasingly bitter division on lines of colour, ethnicity, nationality, religion, wealth and choices? We can be confident that the answer is not to adopt an ‘us versus them’ mentality and to collapse into exclusivism and self-protection. Can we instead serve as a bridge between opposing sides? Can we extend a hand of friendship and compassion to Muslim neighbours, to gay and lesbian neighbours, to – dare I say it – so-called ‘liberals’, recognising that they, too, are made in the image of the God of hope?
Facing these difficult and uncomfortable questions, Paul’s prayer should resonate with us as much as with his original audience. Let’s make it our prayer!:
God of hope, fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.