Romans 5:1-5

This passage might be seen as a theological call to arms for the scholar of Paul: justification, faith and grace! Sound the trumpet, draw the battle lines, let the weary warriors of the 16th century come forth! By now, we all know, or ought to, that we are all justified by faith in Christ and so stand in the grace of God, poured out in human hearts through the riches of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that profound differences do not remain amongst Catholics, Lutherans and other Protestant or Evangelical Christians about the nature of justification, the meaning of faith, and the activity of grace. Certainly we must agree that they all pour forth from the Holy Trinity, as does "hope." "Hope" in this passage might be easy to overlook in the midst of other, profound Pauline themes, but it is one of the three theological virtues, described by Paul (in different ways) in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 5:8, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Galatians 5:5-6 and, yes, Romans 5:1-5. It is true that it is the later tradition and more systematic theologians who will describe "hope" as one of three theological virtues, but its role in the Christian life according to Paul is not to be overlooked. In Romans he connects "hope" (Greek: elpis) to "affliction" (Greek: thlipsis). This is not an accident. Paul sees affliction and suffering at the heart of the Christian life, something to which he himself was called and a mark of his apostleship (cf. 2 Cor. 11:21-12:10). While "affliction" might have the sense of eschatological, or apocalyptic, suffering, it need not. "Affliction" can speak of present-day sufferings and pain (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:14, and 3:2-4). The "hope" that Paul speaks of, however, is a divine hope, one that transcends the desires of daily striving and yearning, that comes to bear exactly when human hopes are lost. This is the promise of the Holy Trinity: "hope does not disappoint" (Rom. 5:5). This is not the promise that afflictions are no longer present in our lives, the hope that all of our material and physical longings will be fulfilled if we hope enough in the Lottery – "I know this is just the ticket!" – or the stock market; this is the promise that God’s love will never disappoint, will never end, will never abandon us, even in the midst of our afflictions here on earth. And we have this witness of hope from not only Paul, but many who came after him: "Our whole lives are a feast day" (Clement of Alexandria). "We have unending holiday" (John Chrysostom). "Festivity is everlasting in the house of God" (Augustine) and "ours...is an eternal festival" (Jerome). All these men placed the cross at the heart of Christian life, which removes the suspicion of empty optimism from their statements. More, it divulges the secret of their joy. "Cross" is not just pain, but pain redeemed, and theirs is a ’joy that can endure despite the sorrow of failure, humiliation, privation, pain, desertion’" (Ben F. Meyer, Critical Realism and the New Testament, 91). Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, God has shown his love for us all by sharing our afflictions; through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God pours out His love for us in all afflictions; through this love, we know real hope, whatever our circumstances, whatever our afflictions, for we await in hope the fullness of the glory of God. John W. Martens

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