Tag: hope

Grace-faith leads to love-hope

The road to a better life begins by acknowledging where one stands.

The truth is that for those of us who seek to follow Christ, there is a certain disappointment in how well we are living with Christ. We don’t measure up to what we hoped when we started the faith journey.

Hannah Whitall Smith said this about the Christian life:

“Your victories have been few and brief, your defeats many and disastrous. You have not lived as you feel children of God ought to live. You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power. You have rejoiced in your knowledge of the things revealed in the Scriptures, but have not had a living realization of the things themselves, consciously felt in the soul.”

If she was writing this today, maybe she would have begun with, “Let’s get real.” I think anyone who really desires to follow Christ will feel, at least at times, the truth of Smith’s words. (Those who just wanted a ticket out of Hell may not understand it, but that is another issue.)

I especially like Smith’s sentence, “You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power.”

We act as if the correctness of our doctrine is what saves us. We don’t say that, but it’s kind of lingering in the background. Of course, that doctrine differs widely when you get into the weeds, even among committed Christians. We, with our varied theologies, cannot all be right.

Which gets us to what the New Testament says is the key to life with God in Christ — grace and faith and love and hope. We keep it simple or we get it wrong.

As I have written multiple times, we are not saved by correct theology, we are saved by God’s grace through our faith.

The grace-faith life leads to love-hope.

Back to Smith:

“Christ is believed in, talked about, and served. However, He is not known as the very life of the soul, abiding there forever, and revealing Himself there continually in His beauty.”

Today’s is my birthday. My birthday wish for us all is that we would all grow in the “life of the soul.” That grace-faith will lead us to love-hope.

My family and friends, I love you because God first loved me. Thanks for enriching my life.

Our faith points to hope and the need for courage

Diana Butler Bass

Today is election day. When the results are in, some of us may feel a sense of hope, others may feel hopeless. Either reaction denies our greater reality of hope in Christ and the divine purposes of God.

“Hope is not a political slogan,” writes Diana Butler Bass inReflections. “In Christian tradition, hope is one of the three theological virtues. According to Paul in First Corinthians 13, hope, along with faith and love, form the core of Christian life. In classical theology, hope is the opposite of despair, of which John Chrysostom said, ‘It is not so much sin that plunges us into disaster, as rather despair.’”

Butler contrasts the despair that life can implant in one’s soul with the hope that Christ brings. Lament provides the pathway out of despair.

“We must lament the state of things because we believe a different future is possible; we must acquaint ourselves with despair because we know the gulf between the two. But lament and understanding do not end in despair. Rather, despair points toward a spiritual reality: at the center of all doubt is, as the Hebrew prophets write, a steadfast and compassionate God.”

We would not lament if we thought there was nothing beyond despair, because to lament is to mourn for the loss of something. We have lost Eden. We have been cast from the garden. But there was a God of Eden and a God who draws us toward a new Eden. Thus there is hope.

Bass couples hope with courage. For the Apostle Paul, she said, “hope goes far beyond sentimental feelings. Hope is the driving vision of a world restored by grace, and the ability to act upon what is only partly seen.”

“To those who trust that the future holds the promise of God’s salvation, hope-filled action is courage. Indeed, without the courage to act, hope is just a word or a slogan on a fading poster. However, when we act with deep assurance that things can and will be different, acedia [the desire to flee from the good, toward apathy, isolation, even death] loses its hold and we can move back into the world. Hope and courage are intimately connected in a mutual exchange of expectation and transformation. Hope without courage is a platitude; courage without hope is folly.”

The hope God has given us was never meant solely to apply to a heavenly afterlife. Hope, like love and faith, is for life, and life begins now.

Watch the election returns, because they are very important to our national life. But raise up no political figure as a messiah for we already have The Messiah. And tear down no politician as an anti-Christ for he or she is a child of God.

“[H]ope comes not through political campaigns. Rather, lasting hope will spring from a rebirth of courage in faith communities, when God’s people prophetically act on divine intention for a world transformed. . . . [T]he groaning of creation strangely cheers me. After all, these are the labor pains. Redemption awaits.”

This is the second of several posts I am going to write related to the the current issue of Reflections.

Challenging the idolatry of power

Readings for a second day in a row confront me with notions of present day idolatry right here among seemingly Bible-believing Christians. Today’s reading comes from Walter Brueggemann in his book, Old Testament Theology: An Introduction. It is somewhat risky to pull out one paragraph from a lengthy, in-depth book, but it is worth the risk because it may stimulate thought.

Near the end of the book, Brueggemann is discussing hope as revealed in the apocalyptic book of the Old Testament, Daniel. Apocalyptic is described by Brueggemann as “the extreme conviction that God will make all things new.” (p. 364) This idea is all over the Hebrew Bible, but it takes a different form in Daniel, which I will not get into.

Brueggemann says one of the spinoffs from biblical apocalyptic (New Testament included) is in U.S. religion, which has a “great attraction”  to such modes of thought and speech. Now let me turn Brueggemann loose. (All quotes, pages 364-365.)

“That way of hope, however, has been cast into modernist modes of dispensationalism that for the most part contradicts the theological force of hope in God.”

A brief stop here. Yes, dispensationalism is a modern invention, and Brueggemann seems right — there is a real sense in which dispensationalism becomes a god in and of itself, thus distracting from the true God who is to be worshiped and trusted.

“Much of that current thought, prominently in the Left Behind Series, has an odd and disastrous alliance with right-wing politics that characteristically supports and celebrates U.S. military adventurism. This odd and widely embraced juxtaposition of apocalyptic imagery and superpower self-aggrandizement demonstrates in an unmistakable way how such daring imagery is easily pressed into the service of idolatry. The outcome of such an alliance is that the rhetoric of hope is matched to a politics of despair that intends at all cost to preserve the status quo of privilege, entitlement, and self-propelled security.”

In essence, Brueggemann here has offered an indictment of American Christianity. He seems to be saying that we Americans have taken the apocalyptic notions derived from Scripture and married them to a distinctly American religion that is more about us than about God. This alliance is formed to preserve three things that are not of Jesus, it would seem — privilege, entitlement, and self-propelled security. Jesus clearly stood for the under-privileged, spoke of responsibility not entitlement, and offered security through God not ourselves.

And lest my left-wing friends take too much joy in the above, let me say that they have their own odd and disastrous alliances.

I’ll let Brueggemann continue:

“Such a utilization of apocalyptic hope is a disastrous idolatry because the God to which apocalyptic hope attests stands precisely against such craven hungers of present arrangements of power and security. Hope stands as a contradiction of all such idolatries. Indeed the very superpower status of the United States, so valued in many forms of contemporary apocalyptic rhetoric, more likely stands, in the tradition of Daniel, as one of the empires that will fall rather than as an icon of the new rule of God. In the contemporary U.S. religious scene, such an idolatrous alliance of future hope and current power employs the rhetoric of hope precisely in the practice of hopelessness, bespeaking not eager trust but immense fear.”

It seems to me that since World War II, the United States has developed an out-sized trust in its own power — economic and military. During the war itself, I do not think that was so much the case, especially among the regular folk. This growing trust in worldly power is a back story to our declining trust in Yahweh, the God of the Bible.

I need not say more; there is enough here to ponder.