I’ve been at college or at work all day and accumulated a load of ideas to blog about when I finally got home, but now I’ve forgotten most of them. I’ll get the boring idea out of the way first. It’s probably my longest ever blog entry (over 1300 words in fact), but worth taking the time to read and critique. Probably a bit too heavy on theology-essay-speak, but I’m working on that.
Thoughts on hope and suffering
If you’ve read this blog at all over the last few days, you’ll have noticed that financially, domestically and academically, I am in a world of deepest poo and trouble.
I almost feel embrassed to talk about ‘suffering’, because compared to most of the human beings that have ever lived, I have life so easy it’s untrue. I’ve never been starving, or in a holocaust, or been a refugee or anything like that. In a small sense, I am suffering though. I feel stuck in a mess that’s largely beyond my control and has potentially very nasty consequences.
Although I am not necessarily a very consistent one, I am a Christian. Violent outbursts of temper like the one I posted yesterday aren’t probably all that loving, and not all that well thought through either. However, I promised myself when I started this blog that I would just write what I thought, and not modify or change things or try and cover my tracks when I messed up or went back on something, so I’ll leave it all in.
I am a Christian though, and I follow and worship Jesus. So I have to think through my faith in times like this. I’m vulnerable, and things are bigger than me. Where is God? What can I expect from him? What does he require from me? Does he hear me when I pray? Will he answer my prayers? So much headmess going on.
The cross, the resurrection and hope
Christianity begins with the cross, and the death of Jesus. Before the church, and more important than the Bible is the core Christian belief that God became man, suffered and was killed on a cross. Hanging on the cross, Jesus’ dying words were “My God, my God – why have you forsaken me?”,and then he dies, unanswered and alone.
I feel like that a lot – not to be all melodramatic or anything – but I often wonder where God is. But in the cross-event, God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, enters into this unique state of aloneness, hopelessness and isolation. In doing so, Christ becomes the companion and brother of everyone who experiences suffering, loneliness and affliction of any kind. He is with me in this.
There is then no room for protest atheism, which rejects a belief in God because of the existence of suffering. The cross is God’s own participation in suffering and rejection, and it is his acknowledgment that humans undergo such trials. In Jesus however, God experiences what it is for humanity to suffer. In his life and death Jesus experiences everything that is bad and dark about human existence. He experiences rejection, loneliness, temptation, being hated, being tortured and everything else that humans suffer. The cross and the death-cry of Jesus show that God is not up in the sky being angry at us, but rather he is alongside us, he is identifying with us, and above all he is for us.
In the resurrection then, God raises the dead Jesus to life – but not the continuation of the same life he had before – it is a new kind of life, one that has overcome death, suffering and sin once and for all. It is a triumph for life and goodness in the face of evil, suffering and death. So God not only identifies with humanity its suffering and weakness, but he transforms it into something new and more glorious. God then opens up whole new possibilities for humanity and for the whole of creation, and we participate in these possibilities by belief in God’s promises about the future and we experience and realise them through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is a deposit that guarantees what is to come in the future. What God began in the resurrection, he will eventually for all of creation. The resurrection becomes a promise which guarantees that which is to come, it is a defiance and defeat of death and sin.
God’s promises stand in a radical contradiction to the present mess we (and I) find ourselves in. There is injustice, but God promises justice, there is death, but God creates life, there is a feeling that we are abandoned by God, but God enters into this state himself and so abolishes any possibility of real godforsakenness. God’s promises for the future stand in a dialectical contrast to the mess of the present, and believing and acting on these promises, faith is created to transport us to these new possibilities arises and carries us there.
A better hope
What has this got to do with hope then? Well, the creation of new life out of ultimate death becomes a guarantee of what is to come, and opens up the future (don’t worry theologians, I haven’t become Clark Pinnock) in that it unlocks the present from sin, despair and transience. God’s work in Jesus becomes our hope, he is in fact the God of hope, the hope for something different.
So when I talk about hope, I’m not just being mindlessly optimistic or longing for some utopian better future. Jesus is our hope, he is the future, and so he defines what the content of that future will be. The future is glimpsed at the end of the Bible, where there is no more suffering, crying, mourning or pain. The old way of doing things passes away and is replaced by the new, just as the cross was followed by the resurrection. The future will be according to Christ, and will be a future of justice, love, peace, healing and reconciliation between God and humanity.
There are then two sins I could commit against Hope. The first is presumption: I hope and demand something from the future that is contrary to Christ and the opposite of what God wants. I want a way forward that is in contradiction to everything that God stands for.
The second sin against hope is despair: I deny the reality of the faith I proclaim when I fold inward and say ‘there is no hope’. There is, and the quality and location of hope is fixed in the person of Jesus Christ.
Another sin follows, and one I have committed a lot. It is the sin of judging someone. When I judge someone (see many previous occasions on World of Sven), I freeze them as they are. By declaring them to be worthless failures, I also deny any future possibility for them. I view them from the present, and see all their errors and selfishness, but by insisting that someone will always be that way, I deny the reality of the transforming power of Hope, and the ability of God to change people. I forget how much he has changed me, and is changing me.
So what has this rather lengthy blog entry got to do with anything? In my current mess, I identify more strongly with Jesus on the cross rather than Jesus in his resurrected glory. I do know that there will not be a rapture-like escape out of this mess, but there will be a way forward from it. God is with me in my bleakness, but he will also transform it (and me) because he is faithful, and he has done so many times already. This is why I have a real and unquenchable hope for the future, even when I get really depressed and discouraged, because God is present in suffering, but he is also present and active in transformation and new creation of life, and will never be overcome. God is always with us, and he is always for us as he shepherds us towards the goal he has planned for all creation.
Circumstantially nothing has changed, but I now feel better equipped to deal with life and I will now approach my mess with a great deal more humility and whole lot more hope.
The end (?)