Your guide points across a wide valley to a majestic range in the distance. “There,” he tells you,” the sun always shines; you breathe crystal-clear air; mountain gales do not batter; and wild beasts are unknown.
“Best of all,” he says, still pointing at the towering range, “one dwells there who is glorious beyond words, and he receives warmly those who respond humbly to him.”
You feel a sudden sense of longing while the image of a helicopter forms in your head. “I want to go,” you say.
No helicopter appears. Your guide beckons you to follow and he starts in the direction of the valley that must be crossed. The path descends, narrows and at points becomes difficult. At times it threads through a darkening canyon and the sense that predatory animals may be near chills the blood.
You feel like turning back but a moment later the path opens to a wider place, as it does by times. After a brief rest to catch your breath and with the encouragement of your guide you say, “Let’s go on.”
This is a story, of course. It pictures two of many experiences in the Christian life reflected in Romans 5:1-5. They are hope and hardship.
Hope is the expectation that someday we will be in “the land that is fairer than day,” as Sanford G. Bennett portrays it in his song, The Sweet By and By. There we shall see God face-to-face in his radiant presence! (1 Corinthians 13:12).
In our mortality we can scarcely imagine the glory of God although across history there have been moments when he has drawn especially near. Moses returned from Sinai after being in the Presence and his countenance shone with God’s reflected glory. The tabernacle in the wilderness was marked by visible manifestations (Shekinah) of God’s presence. And the disciples experienced this too: ‘We beheld his glory,” the Apostle John wrote.
All of this, and so much more, is the focus of the Christian hope. The majestic mountain range can only hint at God’s splendor.
Yet as marvelous as the hope of God’s glory is, there is a valley to cross and that means hardship. There are no helicopter rides to the Mountain of God.
That’s why Paul speaks also of unpleasant times along the way. The King James Version uses the word tribulations to describe this reality. J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, trials and troubles. The Revised Standard Version reads, sufferings.
Whichever of these expressions we choose, none speaks of an experience we want, but each reflects an aspect of life every believer will have. Although life is also filled with times of great fulfillment and accomplishment, trials and troubles are a part of everyone’s experience in the valley of our mortality. They confront us all in the valley of our mortality.
Yet, the hope on our horizon makes the menacing shadows and storms of life endurable — even worthwhile. Note Paul’s progression of thought in Romans 5:3,4: Hardships produce endurance. That is, they develop grit as we learn to hold up under them. And, endurance produces character. Character is who we really are in intention and commitment. And character produces (more) hope.
To the new believer, hope may begin as little more than a doctrine. But the successful meeting of adversity nourishes it into a sustaining conviction. And even while still in the valley we may be granted fresh glimpses of the mountains of God, heightening our anticipation of seeing his glory as our journey progresses.
If the Christian life is an intertwining of hope and hardship shall we then resolve to bear this world’s suffering with resignation? Possibly, at times, but Paul has something even loftier in mind. Resignation is only one aspect of the Christian response. The other aspect is rejoicing.
“We rejoice in our hope,” the Apostle writes. The mountains are there; the valley must be crossed; the perils may be stark; but the Almighty God is bigger than them all.
The life of faith for Annie Johnson Flint was no helicopter ride to heaven. She lost both parents early in life and spent most of her years as an invalid. Yet she could write:
The danger that his love allows
Is safer than our fears may know,
The peril that his care permits
Is our defense wher’er we go.
Adapted from Along The Way
by Donald N Bastian
Photo credit: r chelseth (via flickr.com)