Romans 5: 1-5
Paul was a bold and verbose proclaimer of Jesus Christ in the time of the Roman Empire when pax Romana or the peace of Rome meant something entirely different than did the peace of God; where his understanding of justice differed greatly from Caesar’s. Going against the empire – never good if you are looking for an easy life, in fact it can produce much anxiety and suffering and I think Paul suffered. So he shares his understanding of what it means to live as a Christ follower in disparate times in the 5th chapter of Romans.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
These words, ‘suffering produces endurance…endurance produces character…character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us’ are familiar words that are used often to help us bear our burdens and bolster our faith in times of severe adversity. And while that’s good, Paul seems to want to want to get from suffering to hope rather quickly. He seems so sure that when you suffer that it’ll all be ok, all will be well. And to boast in our suffering? Well that just sounds crazy to me.
We all will suffer at some point in our life, it is inevitable. And we know that suffering doesn’t always produce endurance and hope, at least not right away. Suffering sometimes produce, anxiety, anger, sadness and pain, well ahead of endurance arriving. Paul forgets to tell us how to live into the tragedy and effectively walk through our pain. So what do we do in the meantime? How do we carry on when the unimaginable happens around us or to us. Where do we find that hope that he promises us?
It’s not as if we haven’t had our share of tragic events to deal with lately. I was looking at the Atlantic Magazine’s ‘In-Focus’ a news-photo blog on the internet. They had photographs from last week’s tornado in Oklahoma. The photos were quite moving and sad to see, especially the faces of the children being pulled from rubble filled with fear and uncertainty.
As a child growing up in St. Louis, Missouri I can remember seeing the skies darken into an eerie greenish-black, and hearing the tornado siren alert blasting loudly throughout the neighborhood. I can remember our teacher telling us to hide under our desks, not that after seeing the photos this past week, would have done us any good at all. I can remember the anxiety until it was all over and the sirens stopped and the sky cleared up.
And yet, it didn’t take long for stories of courage to emerge. I want to share with you some stories of courage and hope that a friend shared with me.
From AgapeLand Learning Center: "…According to a report from The New York Times, the staff at AgapeLand Learning Center, a daycare facility, was watching over some 15 children when the tornado struck. Staffers began "draping them with a protective covering and singing songs with them to keep them calm,"…."as the wind ripped the roof off one of the bathrooms, and debris rained down on the children, they remained calm, singing 'You Are My Sunshine,'" ….the daycare facility was smashed to pieces, not one child was harmed."
Another teacher from Briarwood Elementary, Julie Simon: "She saved their lives by putting them in a closet and holding their heads down,"….."a source says the teacher at Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma City took students into a closet and shielded them with her arms as the tornado collapsed the roof and starting lifting children upward."
Sherry Bittle and Cindy Lowe, teachers from Briarwood Elementary: "….along with teachers at the now-obliterated Briarwood, also shielded students with their own bodies. Bittle said, "I had them take their backpacks and put them over their head…. Lowe added that as the walls were coming down….she, too, tried to protect as many kids as she could: "Just like Sherry said, getting them covered up, you know, we practice tornado drills and things like this and I had to tell them, this is not a drill, and we need to be safe and just laying my body on top of as many kids as I could to help out." All the students at Briarwood were accounted for as of Tuesday.
Another teacher from Plaza Towers Elementary: "A sixth-grade teacher at Plaza Towers, Crosswhite threw herself over students who were hiding in the school bathroom as the tornado ripped it to shreds. "I was in a stall with some kids and it just started coming down, so I laid on top of them," Crosswhite told the reporter this morning. "One of my little boys just kept saying, 'I love you, I love you, please don't die with me.'" The children Crosswhite protected are now safe.”
And finally regarding a teacher from Plaza Towers Elementary:
"We had to pull a car out of the front hall off a teacher and I don't know what her name is, but she had three little kids underneath her," a rescuer is quoted as saying in a story from CNN's LZ Granderson. Yes, you read that right, rescuers pulled a car off a teacher who was shielding students from harm. And she seemed to survive, as the rescue worker told KFOR, via Today: "'Good job, teach,' he said, breaking into tears."[i]
Remarkable stories. You see the commonality in all of these stories is that God was fully embodied in the actions and love of the teachers who physically sheltered the children. Those children and teachers were not alone to undergo the tornado, God was totally with them protecting them, covering them from fall debris. We are reminded of God’s love in Psalm 91, “For God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover with his pinions, and under God’s wings you will find refuge; God’s faithfulness is a shield and buckler. (3-4) Under God’s wings.
God will spread sheltering arms around us when we are suffering, when we are being hit by ravaging winds of life. We are never left by ourselves in our pain and torment, God is there with sheltering protective wings.
I don’t believe we need to suffer in order to have character and hope but we certainly can find hope in the midst of our suffering. There is a spiritual transformation that can happen through suffering, to be sure our suffering is never wasted. In fact the greatest potential of suffering is to define more fully our faith and refine our character that God gave us from birth. God can transform even the worst of human situations into something for good. Herein lies our hope and hope never disappoints us.