You tend to feel most hopeful when things are “going your way.” You nail that first post-graduation job interview. You wake up to clear skies on your (April/outdoor) wedding day. Your kid walks off with a spring in his step to his first day of kindergarten. The world is full of promise. You feel the warmth of God’s smile on your shoulders.
But if you (really) believe the gospel, and you live past the age of, say, 15, you eventually figure out that things are never what they appear to be. Good times are often fleeting. And, as my wise father used to say, “Pain will come.” It’s guaranteed.
I always found that statement strangely comforting, because it meant that bad things would happen whether I worried or not, whether I prepared for every conceivable glitch or not. It was beyond my control.
Or as Jesus says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But…”(you gotta love the but) “take heart! I have overcome the world.”
So, in my better moments, I remember to relax. Jesus is in the business of overcoming. God’s in charge. I’m not. Phew.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about overcoming and hope, but it’s also pretty clear (and brutally honest) about how life looks and feels while the victory is being won. It looks like a dead thing and feels like being buried in the cold ground (just ask that seed in Jesus’ parable). It looks like a prison cell and feels like iron chains (just ask Paul). It looks like a crucifixion and feels like a dark tomb (just ask Jesus).
That’s not typically what comes to mind when we talk about feeling hopeful. Why is that?
These days many of us who love Jesus are not feeling particularly hopeful. We read reports of children taken away from their parents. We see division and polarization in our denomination, if not in the very pews of our local church. Everywhere we look we are reminded that we are living in a post-Christian world.
These days many of us who love Jesus are not feeling particularly hopeful.
But the church isn’t any more lost or wretched than before, because the church is Christ’s own body. And Christ does not flee from or disdain wounds; he embraces and heals us with them (Isaiah 53:5). Christ doesn’t vie for popularity; he is despised and “like one from whom people hide their faces” (Isaiah 53:3), and he’s not surprised by that. Christ doesn’t base his kingdom on numerical growth or sanctuary square-footage; he favors small, almost invisible things, like mustard seeds, grains of salt, yeast. Christ didn’t come to Super Glue his hands to the levers of political power; he doesn’t need to, because he “will reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18).
So while things might look and feel pretty bad these days, things are, in fact, neither unexpected nor unusually alarming. Because in this world, as we’ve heard, we will have trouble, but Jesus has overcome. And God is doing a new thing—always! Every morning God’s mercies are new.
Take a moment and look at what’s happening beyond the walls of the Western world’s leaking churches, outside the box of traditional ecclesial thinking, between the lines of Pew reports and Gallup polls. Turn off the news updates on your television, radio, phone, tablet… Journey into the metaphorical ground, tomb, prison cell to discover where the body of Christ is alive, thriving, and going about its usual business of transformation and redemption—through everyday folks like you and me.
What about you? Jesus is the reason for the hope that lies within each of us. Because of him—and only because of him—we can possess real hope.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
Kristyn Komarnicki is director of dialogue and convening for Christians for Social Action.