“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:2–5 ESV).
This is one of my favorite Bible passages, but for the longest time I had difficulty understanding how “character produces hope.” I followed up to the “endurance produces character” part, but how do the difficult experiences that forge character make us more hopeful?
The cynic in me felt that it was more likely to be the other way around. I realized that life was going to throw me some curveballs. I didn’t expect things to be all sunshine and roses. I didn’t think of that as a bad thing, but it wasn’t exactly “hope.”
It dawned on me recently that I frequently settle for a superficial meaning of the word: “I hope we have good weather tomorrow.” “I hope things work out for you.” The way the word “hope” has come to be used, it can have an almost fatalistic ring to it. The things we hope for may or may not work out, so especially when we have little or no control over the outcome, we might as well “hope,” because that’s about all we can do.
But the apostle Paul is not talking about wishful thinking kind of hope here. He’s talking about hope of the Gospel. It’s hope that is grounded in faith in God’s love and loving plan for us personally and for humankind. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul writes, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”1 It’s when we face difficulties and the bleak, blank times of life that hope in the deepest, truest sense shines brighter, stronger. This is how the deepening and shaping of our character produces hope.
Then we won’t shrink from the trials of life or be apprehensive in times of uncertainty. The hope that “does not put us to shame” will never let us down. Why? Because it comes to us through God’s love, which “has been poured into our hearts.” From that love springs faith, hope, and yet more love. It’s a beautiful, perfect cycle, an ongoing exchange of hope and trust that God has given to carry us through life, closer to Him.