“I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
By Dr. Gary Whetstone, superintendent of the Athens-Elberton District
That’s what I heard from the small covey of Christians standing in a yard across the road from Oconee Street United Methodist Church in Athens, Georgia. Their church building was on fire. The roof had collapsed and firefighters were hacking at the steeple, exposing hot spots upon which showers of hosed water fell. The building, constructed in 1902 from the very boards of their previous facility, was giving way to the ravages of fire. And the people groaned, as has our nation and in particular those in Boston: One due to accidental fire, the other due to the fires of malice unleashed in flying shrapnel.
Our “present” day is filled with suffering. We all suffer in varied ways and at varied levels because Creation is broken. And yet, in the midst of swirling emotions with some so powerful words shrivel with inadequacy before them, enters this word: Hope. “I believe” in a “coming glory,” Paul writes. What is will not always be.
Is that enough for Boston and those of Oconee Street? No, if we are talking about Idealism. Yes, if we remain open to the teaching of Paul. Paul teaches that because of what God has already accomplished at the cross and tomb, our groaning is not just about suffering. It is about birth.
For instance, terrorists try to terrorize. And yet, what do we find giving birth from the rubble? Courage. Service. Strengthened love. Resolve. Newly found faith. The very things that make life better. What about fires that end histories and long-standing traditions?
At a prayer vigil held less than 24 hours following the Oconee Street fire, a young girl took the microphone. She said she was sad her church had burned. She explained it was there she had encountered the love of God and the love of a church family. “But I know you will still love me,” she said. So young, and still she detected what we hold to be true: Nothing can separate us from love, rooted in Christ Jesus. Suffering seeks to rob, but with the Spirit’s help, the very qualities of this hopeful, better-world-to-come can be here now.
What I have witnessed these past ten days gives me hope. May it be true for many more.
Prayer Focus for the Week
Caring Lord, grant us courage, lead us to service, strengthen our love, increase our resolve, and deepen our faith. Amen. –Bishop Watson