hoping

Bible study

Bible passage:Romans 8 v 22-39

Perseverance in the light of present pain and future hope

The themes to be explored in this study are endurance and perseverance in the light of present pain and future hope. Hope is often discovered and strengthened in adversity, with the ultimate hope of eternal companionship with God the final answer to those parts of life we find troubling of which induce anxiety. Rather than fixing problems, hope offers a perspective on how problems are experienced.

Before looking at the Bible passage your group may find it helpful to look at this Russian icon depicting the deposition of Jesus in the tomb, which dates from the fifteenth century.

Rostov icon: Deposition in the Tomb
Rostov icon: Deposition in the Tomb

Notes on the painting

  • The deposition of the body of Christ became a popular subject for religious art in the East and West in mediaeval times. There seems to have been a shift from celebrating the victory of Christ on the cross to focusing on his suffering and the anguish of those who lost him.
  • This documentation of human grief and lament offers the bereaved viewer a compelling way of connecting with the story of Jesus, but there are also indications of hope.
  • The inclusion of angels and a heavenly backdrop tells us that there is more to this story than meets the eye, that there is another perspective to be had, and a better ending to be anticipated.
  • The tender maternal embrace of a child wrapped in swaddling clothes about to be laid to rest hammers home the connections between birth and death, their liminal and mysterious nature, and the fact that one infuses the other with hope.

opening questions

  • What do the positions of the characters’ hands convey to you?
  • What are the angels doing?
  • Why are the angels there at all?
  • Bible passage

    22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

      27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

    31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 

    37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    questions

  • What is Paul hoping for?
  • How is hope connected with waiting?
  • What are the grounds for Paul’s hope?
  • What is Paul doing as he weaves together words like ‘groan’, ‘weakness’, ‘we are being killed’, with ‘glorified’, ‘know’, ‘convinced’? How does this mix connect with your experience of life?
  • wider questions

  • What is the relationship between optimism, realism, and hope?
  • What gives you hope in your daily life?
  • Hopelessness is one of the defining features of depression, which affects one in five people at some point in their life and can end in suicide for a small minority. It can also be an aspect of bereavement. How can we communicate a gospel of hope without trivialising such experiences?
  • Additional passages

    Here are four  passages in addition to the main one above. You could have a one-off study on a single passage, a series using all five passages, or break up a larger group into small subgroups to look at one passage each and then come back to share common themes. Click on the texts to find the suggested questions.

  • “What is born of the Spirit is spirit”. How does this image describe the decision to be a follower of Jesus?
  • What might the image of labour have to say about the way we tell others the good news of Jesus? How might it influence those we meet with young children, or alternatively those who are recently bereaved?
  • What perspective do the final two verses offer on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus? What perspective do they offer on losing a loved one?
  • Paul describes our hope as “sharing the glory of God”. What do you think this means?
  • “We also boast in our sufferings” – what does this phrase indicate about the way that we might share our experience of having Christian hope?
  • Has there been a time in your life when endurance has relied upon hope?
  • To what extent do you think that hope is a character trait that needs to be formed? How might hope be ‘practised’?
  • If we have “no confidence in the flesh”, what might our hope be based upon? What matters about Paul’s identity here?
  • How does Paul relate loss to hope?
  • Look at verse 10-11. Do you find Paul’s hesitant tone here (i.e.: wanting to know Christ instead of just knowing… somehow attaining the resurrection) a comfort, or does it produce anxiety?
  • Verses 12-14 describe Paul’s “pressing on”. What does this say about the value of perseverance in the light of hope?
    • How does this picture of heaven compare with those presented by contemporary culture?
    • Revelation makes the move from being led as a lamb, to being led by a lamb who is a shepherd. What else is turned on its head by having a hope of what is to come?
    • What are the signs of heaven that you have seen on Earth?
    • Read the last two verses. Which part of these sentences speaks most clearly to you now? Has that changed from another point in your life and faith?

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