Have you ever noticed that there is a direct correlation between current events and our overall attitude toward life? When things are going well, we are hopeful and optimistic; but when things take a turn for the worse, we lose heart.
This is a tragic way to live because it places us at the mercy of events totally beyond our control. Instead of acting upon life, we end up merely reacting to it. Good times turn us into giddy optimists, while bad times transform us into gloomy prophets of doom.
But St. Paul’s approach in his letter to the Romans was something decidedly different. He found and fashioned his hope at the very place where we tend to lose ours – in the midst of trouble. Listen to what he says, “We know that affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope.” In other words, St. Paul is saying that real and lasting hope has little to do with the condition of the world but has everything to do with the character of the individual.
Let us take a closer look at what he is telling us. First, he says, “Afflictions make for endurance.” That means that by facing up to trouble, a person builds spiritual muscle that enables him or her to endure even more trouble. Next, he says, “Endurance makes for tested virtue.” That statement makes solid sense. Virtue and character mean very little until they have been tested and proven, and that testing comes in the midst of adversity. Finally, St. Paul says, “Tested virtue makes for hope.” The person who has endured comes to know that he or she can endure, thereby building a proven character that enables him or her to face even desperate situations with hope.
So, St. Paul’s hope was not a happy little mood borrowed from favorable circumstances. It was a quality of character hammered out in the midst of trouble. He had stood the tests of life before and therefore had a deep conviction that he could do it again. That kind of hope does not come and go with the changing winds of fortune. It holds steady in good times and bad and will be there in those hours when we need it most.
Therefore, it is true that St. Paul found his hope in the midst of trouble. But what enables a person to do that? Why is it that trouble destroys some people while it makes others strong?
St. Paul’s endurance was more than a matter of gritting his teeth and hanging on. It was rooted in some deep convictions about life. He believed that behind this universe is a God of love, revealed to us in Jesus and ever with us in the person of His Holy Spirit. When that kind of faith is the foundation of a person, something solid and unshakable sustains His hope. The world that belongs to a God of love holds the helm, we can be certain that the ship of our life will never sink. Thanks be to God!