i love that.
one thing you probably can't accuse paul of doing is candy-coating reality. and i love that about him. in many of our churches today paul would likely have some trouble fitting in. i just don't think he'd be willing to play the game where we all pretend like everything is wonderful. paul was very familiar with suffering, and he wasn't interested in hiding it. he wasn't one to paint on a good Christian smile while his pain lurked behind the curtain. "everything is wonderful," that guy says, while he spends his days in a stupor, just looking for the energy to get out of bed each morning. when someone sees a clue or a hint of the pain below the surface, the pain which is causing him to live in fear, in isolation, in doubt, and in despair, he lashes out with, "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"
we are candy coaters sometimes. we don't want to admit that we're broken. that we're sinners. that we're alcoholics and adulterers and gossips and in debt up to our eyeballs. we would rather pretend like we living our best life now.
but we're not. we're broken at our best, and paul knows it. he frequently writes about it, but in this text he makes a bold claim: that the pain of our brokenness is nothing - nothing - compared to the glory of wholeness and healing which is ours in Jesus. we've already tasted this in our salvation, the forgiveness that we have so freely been offered. it is incredible when we taste of God's mercy. when we become convinced of the inability of anything in all creation to separate us from God's love, we discover a new way of living that isn't based in brokenness and founded in fear.
and yet, we still live in brokenness, don't we? loved ones die. the doctor says 'cancer.' the pink slip arrives. the car is totaled. the bad habit we thought we kicked comes back. we lash out in anger and say something awful that we can't take back. and on and on it goes.
but Paul wants us to know that there is good news for us, yet! the pain we are experiencing now is like labor pain, he says. we are groaning in pain for the delivery of a new day when there will be no more suffering or pain: just glory. and that is our hope - our only hope. that Jesus, who has forgiven us and loved us and called us his children, will also fully redeem all of creation and our bodies and all that was originally made and called 'good.' that's our hope. and if we have it, it changes everything.
it doesn't take away the pain. it doesn't get rid of cancer or pay the bills. but it does give us the strength we need to face the struggles and the pain of our days. it doesn't make life easy, but it does make life rich and abundant. it doesn't make us comfortable, but it does make us contagious with joy. it doesn't ask us to candy coat our suffering and pretend away our pain, but it does call us to live each moment in the conviction that we are living for something more, something deeper, something fuller. it calls us to live with joy and light, even in the face of darkness, because we know the end of the story: love wins.
and so, i am challenging myself and my family and my church, and you, dear reader, to find ways to rediscover hope. in the midst of all that discourages you, find a way to remember that what we are dealing with now isn't even worth comparing with what is to come. we must cling to that hope, and find ways to share it with our neighbors. if Christianity isn't offering hope in the midst of natural disasters and economic recessions and political frustration, then what are we offering?