Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 23, 2014

The Journey Toward New Creation: Hope Redefined

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

For the past three weeks I’ve been reviewing the key themes and ideas I came across during my study leave at Duke Divinity School. The question we wrestled with during the Summer Institute was how can we be faithful participants in God’s plan to bring about reconciliation and healing in a divided and broken world?

On the third day we focused on the need for hope. Rev. Dr. Bill Turner began our day with a reflection on Romans 8:24-25, where Paul writes, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

I have often thought of hope as something we gain when we have a glimpse of good news in a difficult situation. When a doctor tells us that our sickness is treatable we call this hopeful news. When we finish a successful job interview we have hope that we will be employed soon.

Yet, Paul suggests that Christian hope is present when there are no visible or tangible signs of resolution. He speaks of a deeper hope that is present when we cannot see any good news. It is a virtue that stands in the gap between vision and lament. We hope for something we patiently wait for but do not currently see.

The fathers stature pales in comparison to the defiant son. By worldly metrics he seems weak.

The father’s stature pales in comparison to the defiant son. By worldly metrics he seems weak.

Dr. Bill Turner spoke about how the virtue of hope requires us to to be, “delivered from the expectation of causality.” Hope is not contingent on us having the right plan of action that will bring about a desired result. Hope is something that sustains us when it looks like all is lost. It is a virtue that keeps us standing when it looks like our work is not producing any fruit, or when evil seems to be winning. Hope, then, is not contingent on immediate results. To recover hope, Turner says, we must be “purged from the metrics of this world.” Christian hope is sustained by the Holy Spirit, who encourages us when all looks bleak.

This reminds me of a story that Pastor John recently referenced in one of his sermons. John spoke of a German pastor who wrote about his discouragement during the rise of Hitler. This pastor recounts one particular Sunday where he felt the futility of his vocation. As he preached a sermon about hope to a dwindling congregation of four people he could hear a huge crowd of Hitler’s Youth marching outside the sanctuary. In that moment it looked as if Hitler was more powerful than the church. According to the metrics of the world the Nazi party looked successful and the church seemed to be running out of steam.

Yet, when we fast forward to today we now see that Hitler’s days were numbered, and his influence quickly dwindled. The church, however, is still alive and influential in the world. Jesus is still being praised around the world, while Hitler is considered one of the most destructive leaders in world history.

Hope, then, requires patience. It requires us to hold on to a vision of God’s kingdom even if it looks like we are failing according to the metrics of our world. Without patience, Dr Turner says, “we easily slip back into nihilism.” If we are tied to the immediate metrics of our world we easily get discouraged and are tempted to give up.

This was not just a theoretical idea for Turner. He spoke of how hope was necessary in his own community as they worked for civil rights in the face of racism and oppression. Hope, in the battle for civil rights, was certainly not in something that could be seen. In the face of such horrible oppression it would have been easy to slip into nihilism and anger. Yet, hope was a sustaining virtue that encouraged many to keep moving forward even though the systems of racism seemed insurmountable. This type of hope is embodied for us in the example of those like Martin Luther King Jr. who believed that justice would ultimately win, even though it seemed impossible in the present. Hope, Turner says, “is not holy dope.” It is not about avoiding reality or making empty promises. Instead, hope is about holding on the vision of God’s kingdom even when we honestly can’t see it around us.

We all face situations where we struggle to see any immediate resolution. Sometimes our medical prognosis comes without any possible treatment, sometimes we have entrenched conflicts with family members that seem irreconcilable, sometimes we have lost hope for our children’s future, or sometimes we experience futility in our attempts to bring about change in our workplaces or communities. In the midst of these challenging circumstances we are encouraged to hold on to a deeper hope. A hope that transcends the power of death and surpasses all understanding.

This hope is rooted in the enduring power of Jesus Christ. We do, after all, follow a God who was written off as weak and powerless as he hung on a cross. Yet this God, who seemed defeated by the powers and principalities of the world, also rose again three days later and triumphed over the grave!

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Responses

  1. Thanks Phil! I have been challenged to think more on hope. For years I have known its substance is much greater that our world could imagine. And more that we could glean from God’s word. Today I am drawn to think more deeply as I am writing my new thoughts of hope down.


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