The world has always been falling apart. Well, at least since Genesis 3. But there are times when we are far more aware of just how busted up we are in this world. This is one of those times. Those of us who work in the social services get a front-row seat at seeing individual, family, community, and society level brokenness.
Frankly, this vantage point tempts me to become cynical, skeptical, and in despair. Listen in on some of the thoughts we Christian counselors might have: people don’t change; leaders serve themselves; God doesn’t care… Out of this experiences, counselors may find themselves becoming complacent, settling for palliative care only (vs. recovery), or worse, using clients to sate their own appetites.
So, where do you find hope in an otherwise hopeless world?
Cynicism and skepticism illustrate conclusions we have made about our world. They illustrate that we have stopped looking for other data. Consider instead these three activities as a reminder and cultivator of the hope available to us:
- Waiting and lamenting. I’ve written on this quite a bit over the years. This post was my most recent, but this one and this one may be of use as well. You might wonder whether lamenting leads to more cynicism. But notice that the goal is to actively wait on God for an answer. When we lament in front of God we talk to him about the state of our soul or the state of the world. Waiting requires that we prepare to listen to God’s heart on these same things.
- Waiting and looking. This is the season of Advent, of remembering the birth of Jesus, the messiah. †Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist had stopped looking for God to show up. Who can blame him, God hadn’t seemed to show up for a mere 400 years or so. It took being struck silent by an angelic messenger to wake him from his disbelief. Where are you no longer looking for God’s hand in your life? In the world? Look to your present. Ask your friends to tell you where they notice God’s activity. Look to your future, imagine yourself as a child waiting eagerly for Christmas morning. Be like that child and keep talking to God, “Is it Christmas yet?” Look even to the past. See what God has done in your life in the past and let that remind you that he is at work in your present and future. Read Hebrews 11 as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to his people.
- Waiting and loving. While we wait, we are not passive! We move and act in love, even when it seems the good we do will not change the outcome. That loving may be acts of palliative care, or it may be an act of planting a dormant seed that one day springs to life and full bloom. This act of loving others grows out of Jeremiah’s lament (Lam 3:21f): because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed. Therefore we recognize that our minuscule capacity to love, to care, even to call others to repentance are all signposts of God’s ongoing love for his people.
Is it crazy to hope in this world? Absolutely. But the signs of birth are around you if you look. Notice in Luke 1 how Zechariah sings of present-tense salvation and redemption, even though Jesus is merely in utero. How much more ought we to be able to hope as we live in the age of the Resurrection.†
†I got these ideas from a sermon preached by Marc Davis on 11/27/16.
Two days ago I had the privilege of meeting and hearing Dr. James Orbinski at the 2009 Frobese Day, an educational conference held at Abington Memorial Hospital each year. Dr. Orbinski is the former head of Medicins Sans Frontiers (Drs without Borders), current head of Dignitas, professor at U. of Toronto, author of An Imperfect Offering, and central figure in the documentary, Triage. Of interest to me was his work in Rwanda during the genocide.
On a personal note, I found him very engaging. When I was introduced to him, he didn’t do the usual handshake and move on. He really engaged me about Rwanda and what work we did and plan to do there and gave a number of encouraging comments that went above and beyond the call of duty. I guess that is one of the characteristics you need if you are a person who goes into distressed areas. You need to connect to the people, figure out what they need and what can be done, and then do it.
First, an assortment of observations presented:
- There are about 6.8 billion people in the world. Some 3.8 billion, or about half, subsist on less than 2 dollars a day
- 1.1 billion go to bed hungry each night. This number grows by about 100 million each year
- Nearly all famines are the function of political conflict rather than acts of nature
- There has been a 24% increase in food prices in impoverished areas. One of the key causes is the increase of developing biofuel. Food is more valuable if it can be made into fuel.
- The World Food Bank is begging for about 23 billion dollars to feed this number of poor. It can’t get it. But, 13 TRILLION dollars has been recently expended to prop up a collapsing international economy.
- In 2000, it cost 15,000 (a year, I think) to provide an individual in Africa the antiretroviral meds needed to survive. Today, with political pressure, it costs 99 dollars
- The drug companies say that it costs 1.6 billion dollars to bring a drug from a new chemical to market (through research & Development). While they do not reveal how it costs this much, it is clear that part of the costs they factor in is the income they expect to make on the drug. So, if you expect to make 10% on your investment, can you really consider that a cost to develop a drug. Apparently, they do
- A recent nonprofit just released three new drugs dealing with neglected diseases in Africa. The costs to bring these drugs to the market was 100 to 300 million dollars. And, the companies selling them are indeed making a profit
A couple of his key ideas:
- Dignity cannot be granted; it must be acknowledged via engaged collaboration and solidarity
- Solidarity is not pity but active compassion
- Hope is not some naive utopian dream, it is “what we do”
- We all need to be political. The first act of politics: speak the truth; The second act: listen
- The worst form of suffering is suffering alone
- We must see it, acknowledge it, give voice to the voiceless and thus allow for dignity even if we cannot solve it
- Optimism and Hope are two distinct concept. Optimism is confidence that one’s actions will work for the best. Hope is confidence that the action you are about to undertake is the RIGHT one no matter the outcome
- We need those with daring ideas, with visions of possibilities. That is all there is. Hope, is in his estimation, in himself–that he will do the right thing.
While I do not agree with his definition of hope, I do agree that we need more people to move from insight (that a problem exists) to action (that I can do something of value in a hopeless situation). Folks like Orbinski certainly put many of us to shame.
Ever thought about what hope feels like? When ministers and other christian leaders speak or write about hope, what do you envision? Does it include confidence? Peace? Contentment? Belief? Assurance? Or does it include pain, longing, and the like?
In reading Romans 8:18f Paul speaks of present suffering and that yet reminding himself that it is nothing in comparison to heaven and our glorification. And yet, we wait, he says. Notice some of the words used in this passage (up to v. 29):
eager expectation, frustration, groaning (like in childbirth), wait eagerly, patiently?, wordless groans.
This is all included in this passage about hope–hope in what is not seen. Hope, it appears, includes eagerness and expectation, but also groaning and waiting for something that seems to be killing us despite the good we hope will come (like childbirth). Though hope was present, the experience the Christians were facing was difficult enough that Paul in v. 31 reminds his readers that if God is for them, then nothing can conquer them in this period of waiting. They were in pain!
So while the hope of heaven sustains us, it is not something that is at all peaceful or without suffering since we long for something that we yet do not see.
How do you put longing/groaning and hope together in the same breath?
When exiting the train in England, you might hear the conductor telling you to “mind the gap” between the train and the platform. Consider another gap…
One of our pastors preached on Sunday from Hebrews 6:13-20. In this passage the writer of Hebrews reminds us of God’s promises and that they are sure because God does not lie and that he swears an oath on himself that his promises will be fulfilled (are being fulfilled in Christ).
And yet, our pastor remarked that there is a gap between our present feelings and the objective reality of God’s finished work. We live in that gap until heaven or Christ’s return. Our hope while we live in the gap is anchored in Jesus.
How do you deal with the gap? Seems much of counseling work is figuring out how to live and function in the gap, what to place our hope in, working to remember what is true, and living well with others who also struggle with their “gap.”
What have you found helpful as you “mind the gap?”