At first, they were called “embedded menus.”
The invention of these menus occurred before any of us had even heard of something called the internet or the World Wide Web. It happened in the dark ages of computer technology, a primeval era in which computers were still large by today’s standards, and data storage was pitifully small.
Ben Shneiderman, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland and the inventor of the embedded menu, quickly gave these menus a new name: hyperlinks. It caught on, and without them, researchers, librarians, grad students, parents and countless others in every occupation would be floundering and perhaps still looking for help in the venerable Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature.
If you’ve ever read one of my Advent devotionals and noticed the Christmas carol title underlined and in a different color, you’ve seen an embedded hyperlink. Many online articles have a similar format. It’s hard to imagine life without hyperlinks. Yet this is what Gary Klein, Ph.D., senior scientist at MacroCognition LLC, tries to do. In a recent article in Psychology Today, he attempts to picture our world without these digital stairsteps or Russian nesting dolls.
“Think about how you would navigate, using your smartphone or your PC,” he writes. “How would you take advantage of touchscreens? How would you perform drag and drop operations? You’d be working through menus. Even if we toss Siri into the mix, imagine telling Siri how to sort through your photographs or select a size and color of a sweatshirt to order. Hyperlinks are so natural that they’ve become invisible unless we make a special effort like this as a way to appreciate them. Hyperlinks were one application of Shneiderman’s theory of direct manipulation, which also led to the tiny touch-screen keyboards on mobile devices, tagging family photos, gestural interaction, and other visual interfaces.”
Think about it: Would you like to live in a world without love, random acts of kindness, museums, orchestras, sunsets and digital cameras to record their beauty, the sounds of children playing, movies, baseball games … and hyperlinks!?
No, you would not!
Now, take a moment to reread the passage from Romans, the Lectionary text for this Sunday’s second reading. Two sets of theological hyperlinks seem to be in play here. The first set in verses 1-2 concerns our relationship with God. The second set in verses 3-5 deals with how one gets on in the real world without dissolving in despair.
Here are some possible links in verses 1 and 2:
Justified Faith Peace God Lord Jesus Christ Grace Hope Glory
Let’s look at the first three:
Justified. Imagine following this theological link to get a summary of the doctrine of justification plus everything the New Testament has to say about it.
Notice that the apostle says, “we are justified …” (v. 1, emphasis added). Many things might be happening in our lives, but right now one of those things is not a problem with God. We and God are cool. In Christ, everything’s been lined up, straightened out and calmed down. God has no fight with us. The past has been forgiven, the present is in process and the future is in God’s hand. We might worry about a lot of things, but we are not worrying about our relationship with God!
Faith. This is possible because we are people of faith. The text says, “We are justified by faith …” Faith is part of the justification conversation, so when the faith link is selected, everything the Bible has to say about faith comes up. What are the highlights?
The blessings of God are accessed by and through faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is a gift one can possess and exercise regardless of one’s education, wealth or station in life. With faith, even the weak are stronger than the mighty, and without faith, the strong are powerless before even the puny and despised.
Peace. We started with justification, which took us to faith, and now we’re at peace – which is a product of the foregoing. We cannot have peace with God unless God agrees to give up the quarrel, to tear up our debts, to cancel our sins. This happened because we had the faith to accept God’s offer to reconcile, so that now, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). And if we have peace with God, God has peace with us. This verse then could be rewritten to read, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, God is in a state of peace with us through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If this sounds a little too theoretical, theological and doctrinal, keep in mind a couple of things. First, Romans is, without question, heavy stuff; it’s dense with theology and Paul must have had a reason to address themes like salvation, justification, sanctification, the old and new natures, and more. Clearly, the apostle wanted the church at Rome to get its theology straight. Bad theology would be like paddling a rowboat with crooked oars.
Second, theology was very important to the early church. It is still important to the 21st century church, but not to the extent that it was then. Remember, it took two months-long Councils (in 325 and 381 AD) to put together the Nicene Creed; which is the only creed widely accepted by Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches. And, even then, it was less than a thousand years ago that the church split over the meaning and interpretation of a single Greek word, filioque (meaning “and the Son”) being inserted into that Creed.
So, when Paul provides some teaching on justified, faith and peace, the church at Rome is not surprised, as perhaps we are. It is important to Paul; it is important to them.
These terms are freighted with theological significance. They teach us about our relationship with God. But then, Paul switches to the here and now. He addresses the question: “How do justified Christians, enjoying peace with God by faith in Jesus Christ, live in the real world of suffering, crisis, occasional persecution, distress and anxiety?”
Now, let’s move to the second set of links. Here are possible links in verses 3-5:
Sufferings Endurance Character Hope Love Holy Spirit
This time, let’s look at the first four.
Sufferings. When we open this link, we’re taken to reams of biblical data on this topic. It’s quite impressive to sift through the scriptural record and note how many biblical characters suffered unjustly, not the least of whom is our Lord himself. Go back to Eden, and it is not long before blood is pooling on the ground when Cain murders his brother. Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery. Moses was a servant of his people who had suffered for more than 400 years under Egyptian taskmasters. The prophets suffered. And Jesus predicted suffering for those who followed Him and His teachings.
In one of Peter’s letters we read, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). In life, there is suffering – a truth universally acknowledged and enshrined not only in the canon of Scripture but in Buddhism as the first of the Four Noble Truths.
This suffering comes in many forms. For the early Christians, physical suffering at the hands of authorities, impatient crowds and bloodthirsty mobs who were challenged and fearful of the “different” among them was not uncommon. Today, people all over the world still face the threat of bodily harm because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs or their gender.
Of course, we in this congregation know suffering, as well. It might be suffering mental anguish, emotional pain and/or chronic bodily pain. You might know the pain of loss – the loss of a spouse or a child, the loss of income, the loss of a home, the loss of health.
People are suffering today, and often we don’t know it. This may be because, as the Bible suggests, “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains” (Proverbs 14:13, NLT).
Yet, embedded in the biblical discussion of suffering is another link that reveals an interesting truth about the nature of suffering: There’s a positive byproduct to suffering!
Endurance. This word is sometimes translated as “perseverance.” Some people seem to be good at this. It is listed as a virtue on many lists of values and strengths. Endurance might be a product of your DNA – who you are – but the apostle suggests that when we experience suffering or what other translations call trials and tribulations, it produces endurance. It is one of the unique byproducts of suffering.
But Paul is referring to not only a person who endures, but to someone who has super-endured. The Greek word here is hupomenó (·πομ·νω). Its root is menó (μ·νω). The short form means to abide or endure. Adding the prefix simply intensifies the meaning, so that now you are brave, bearing up courageously. In other words, your persevering character is approaching superpower quality!
A person with endurance has learned how to gut it out on a daily basis. Because you have suffered, you’re stronger than a triathlon competitor. You’re a super-version of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, who survived for weeks on the Pacific Ocean with two buddies during World War II only to be captured by the Japanese. He survived that, too. His suffering produced endurance. He was, according to Laura Hillenbrand, who told his story in her book Unbroken, unbroken.
This is no ordinary endurance. It is extra- and super-ordinary, and it emerges from great suffering. In fact, without suffering, your endurance level is probably just menó, not hupomenó. The reference to endurance in verse 4 is a reference to heroic stuff.
Endurance is not the end of these embedded links, however. Endurance, like suffering, leads to yet another virtue!
Character. It has been widely reported that character is who you are and how you behave when no one is looking. But if no one is looking, then there is no one in a position to evaluate your character, is there? It’s a moot point. Of course, there is always God.
The word rendered “character” (dokime¯n, δοκιμη´ν) means experience, as in “the school of hard knocks.” But this experience is more than bouncing willy-nilly through life, from pillar to post and learning a few lessons along the way. Rather, the word refers to a metal or precious gem that has gone through a trial by fire to test its worth. Character is not just who we are or what we are when no one is looking. It is also who we are while probed, vetted, observed, thoroughly examined and tested, and the results are known by all. Only after this process do others know that you’re the real deal, the genuine article. You’re not a fake. You are proven by your suffering and endurance of it to be authentic and genuine. That’s character. And character leads us to another link – “character produces hope” (v. 4). Follow it and you discover that hope is a “favorable and confident expectation.”
Hope. It has to do with both the unseen and the future (see 8:24-25). Hope is a huge topic in the New Testament. It is the middle virtue of the big three of 1 Corinthians 13:13 (faith, hope and love). The New Testament speaks of hope as:
the joyous anticipation of good or something positive (Titus 1:2; 1 Peter 1:21)
“Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27)
Resting in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:1)
Having as its object the resurrection (Acts 23:6)
“the hope of the promise made unto the fathers” (Acts 26:6, 7)
“the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5)
“the hope promised by the gospel” (Colossians 1:23)
“our hope of sharing the glory of God” (in v. 2 of today’s reading)
“the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13)
“the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8)
“the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2 and 3:7).
The apostle Paul is clear. Those who suffer have an opportunity to endure; those who endure will develop character; and those with character will be spilling over with hope.
Have you noticed that those who have suffered, endured, and been tested and tried generally are among the most hopeful people on the planet?
These seven hyperlinks of the faith are by no means exhaustive, but they provide an excellent start to understanding both our relationship with God and the world in which we live and work – all the while endeavoring to be faithful to the will of God as we know and understand it.