Hope comes last.
Do you have any idea how much that bothers me?
In Romans 5, Paul says that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character, hope.”
Sometimes I don’t know what kind of world he lived in to say such a thing. Not the part in the middle – “perseverance produces character.” That can make sense. Practice and exercise, sticking with it – I see that producing character in myself and others.
But “suffering produces perseverance”? No. It doesn’t. Not on its own, at least. Unrelieved suffering without hope produced despair. Then numbness. Deadening. Unrelieved suffering produces the realization that one can actually get through the unendurable, but not intact.
I’ve lived with enough suffering myself, and alongside the suffering of others, not to spiritualize it. Abusive relationships, abusive systems. Suffering kills.
Persistent suffering teaches a person that it won’t matter what you do. It kills agency. You feel like a placeholder in the world, but something knows you’re meant for more than that.
Suffering produces silence.
Hope can change everything.
Hope is a gift we can give each other, but we have to receive it, or give it to ourselves, first.
Hope says, this can change. I – we – can do something different.
Hope says, this world can change. We can grow and learn, and it can be filled with beauty, love, and peace. We can choose that.
Hope says, I can change. My life can change. But I have to choose to change things.
In so many ways, I was taught to wait for things to change. To “wait on the Lord” – for direction, for a date, for a calling, for life. I remember the day, Easter Sunday in the parking lot after church, when I first said it (to myself as much as to my friend). “If I want my life to be different, nothing is very likely to change unless I make some changes.”
That was the day I began to find my agency. When I began to go out to find direction, a date, a calling, a life. And it turns out, they are there for the finding (though not without that perseverance).
Suffering will happen – the result of wrongs done both intentionally and accidentally, by both ourselves and others. The result of death, that final enemy. The result of life that just is, changing seasons and moving ever onward with little regard for our three-score-and-ten.
But we have today – really that’s all we have. And we can chose beauty and love and generosity today, even if we know that choice will bring suffering tomorrow.
That’s the hope – that there is always beauty and love and generosity to be chosen.
Paul’s equation only works as a cycle. It only works when, in the face of suffering, we can share hope with each other. When we can choose together beauty and love with generosity in the middle of suffering. When we can fight alongside each other for the agency to right the injustices that so often trap us in suffering.
Then suffering can produce perseverance, and perseverance can produce character, and character can produce even more hope. Enough to infect the world.