How’s your hope right now?
The end of 2014 was spectacularly miserable wasn’t it. There was the Sydney siege, the Pakistan school attack, the continued death toll due to Ebloa and the boiling over of race-relations in the United States. And now, thanks to the actions of terrorists in France, it appears 2015 isn’t promising to be any better.
For me personally, last year I encountered greater injustice and far worse material poverty than I’ve ever seen in my previous twenty-six years up to now. Malnourished children. Trafficked teenagers. Enslaved fathers.
There is much to fear in our world at this time. Much that can steal our hope if we let it.
How can we discover ‘real hope’ in the midst of so much madness?
We’re about to find out.
Our modern society has fallen head-over-heels for the ‘ideal of progress’ – the belief that continual advancements in technology, science, economics and social organisation will be the source of our salvation. The belief that within us, we have everything we need to ensure our physical, environmental and social flourishing.
But as philosopher N.T. Wright points out,
We have discovered so much, learned so much, invented so much, and yet are still without power to do many of the things that really matter. We have invented wonderful machines for making war, but nobody yet has found one that will make peace. We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t put food into hungry stomachs. We can listen to the songs the whales sing on the ocean floor, but we can’t hear the crying of human souls in the next street.
What Wright says is true, isn’t it. But why is this the case?
The mess we’re in
One thing we can surely all agree on is that this world is not as it should be. Despite how good things might be for you one day, the ‘highs’ are often brought down by sudden and unavoidable ‘lows’.
We overcome one personal crisis brought on by the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the discovery of a terminal illness, only to have another personal crisis arise.
We find love and enter into relationships, only to have our hearts broken.
We negotiate peace in one conflict, only for violence to flare up elsewhere.
We mop up one environmental catastrophe, only to see another irreparable blow to our fragile ecology elsewhere.
Call this seemingly endless cycle of ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ whatever you like – one friend of mine told me about a theologically astute friend of his who labels this phenomenon “The human propensity to F@&% things up” – but it’s clear that somewhere along the line, things got messed up.
Real hope can only come about through the assurance that one day all will be set right.
Which begs the question… what or rather who if anyone could achieve such a thing?
We’ve just come through Christmas (“Phew!” some of you are saying). Many of you might toss away the ‘Christmas story’ as ‘utter nonsense’ (I’m talking about the one where Jesus comes as a baby, not the jolly-fat-guy-in-the-red-suit) but at the centre of this story is the missing piece vital to us finding real hope in this world – the future promise of justice and restoration.
Long before the baby in a manger, a prophet wrote of the significance of an event to come that would ultimately change the course of this world and make ‘real hope’ possible.
A light will come in the darkness that no evil can overcome. A day will come where oppression will cease and every soldier’s boot used in battle, every outfit stained with innocent blood, will be piled up and burned. For a child will be born, one who is fit to rule with perfect justice and righteousness, to ensure wholeness, right living and peace forever more. (A paraphrasing of Isaiah 9 and John 1:5)
A choice to make
At this point, we have a choice to make.
Either we continue in our belief that as a human race we’re somehow marching towards a day where all of society’s ills and evils are solved through our own ingenuity – terrorism, climate change, global poverty, sickness and disease… gone!
Or, we risk it all on the notion of a God who loves us. One who desperately desires an end to this world’s pain and suffering, and who proves His willingness to be the deliverer of this through His entering into the mess.
I’m talking about Jesus, who let’s remember;
Didn’t come as a loud-mouthed politician making claims that couldn’t possibly be real.
Nor as one demanding allegiance through the wielding of a gun.
He wasn’t dressed in the finest clothes, a spinster cloaked in charisma and charm.
And he too rejected the hypocrisy of those who were ‘religious.’ Even going so far to call them, “A brood of vipers… Whitewashed tombs who appear ‘perfect’ on the outside but are full of death and deceit on the inside.” (Matthew 23)
He came as one born himself into poverty, oppression and injustice. A refugee with a price on his head from day one.
He came so that through His example of radical ‘neighbour love’, we might have a model for our own lives and communal flourishing now.
And through His penultimate act of self-sacrifice, having lived a life free from the brokenness and wrongdoing that taints the rest of us, He established himself as the only one capable of presiding over the world with a judgment to come that is both perfect in its love and righteousness.
A promise of justice for tomorrow. A way of life centred on loving others today.
This is real hope.