Connections 02.25.2024: Hoping against Hope

Romans 4:13-25

Just as pastors and Bible teachers do today, Paul used stories from the past to explain faith and salvation to the early Roman believers. And just like pastors and teachers today, he sometimes omitted parts of the stories to emphasize his point. In our lesson text, he recalls the story of Abraham, known as the father of all who strive to follow God (v. 16).

God told Abraham, who was nearing age one hundred, that he and his wife Sarah—also elderly and barren—would have a son. Despite this impossible promise, Paul says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God” (v. 20). Paul presents Abraham as a righteous, steady example of faith (v. 22). But he doesn’t share all of the story.

Looking at Genesis 17, we learn more about Abraham and his reaction to God’s news of a son: “Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” (v. 17). He was so skeptical that he thought God was referring to Ishmael, conceived with one of the family slaves as a son for Sarah (v. 18). But that’s not what God meant, and God corrected Abraham, even giving him a name for Sarah’s son: Isaac (v. 19).

Abraham is an honest example of a human being who struggled in his relationship with God—laughing at the impossible news of a son with Sarah (Gen 17), resorting to deceit about Sarah (Gen 20), and using his slave woman Hagar before sending her and Ishmael away (Gen 21). He is also a righteous example of faith who obeyed God time and time again, even when the instructions seemed absurd (see also Gen 22, when God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac).

So Paul is right to use Abraham as a model for the Roman believers and for us today. Maybe we, like Abraham, can “hope against hope” as we follow God’s way. Sometimes God seems to lead us to places that seem impossible, terribly difficult, or unfair. But like Abraham, “hoping against hope” (Rom 4:18), we can follow God into the unknown. Even when we are unsure, God is always certain, and God will take care of us.

Discussion

• Why might pastors omit certain parts of a story when making a point? Why do you think Paul did this?
• What is the downside of presenting someone as a righteous example of faith and not mentioning the times when they failed?
• What do you think it means to hope against hope? Have you ever had to do that?
• What can we learn from Abraham and Sarah about the struggles of a life of faith?
• How can stories from the past comfort us and encourage us as we strive to obey God?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University (BA in English, 2000), has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theatre productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she always has one book going and several more waiting to be read!

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