The Road to Hope

Civil Rights leaders knew the power of suffering Photo by  History in HD  on  Unsplash

Civil Rights leaders knew the power of suffering Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

I spend much of my days shoring up that I do not suffer. I take aspirin. I work hard to ensure my kids are quite and not yelling. I turn the news off that I don’t want to see. I time my driving so to avoid traffic. I delay sharing bad or unwelcome news with others. I order things online so I do not have to go to the store. I look for the shortest lines.

Recently this line came through WeCroak: “Our avoidance instinct is also due to the fact that our culture has decided that suffering has no value.” (original source)

As a human I work to avoid suffering but as a Christian I know that suffering has immense value. As Paul writes:

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.- Romans 5:3-5 (NRSV)

Paul seems to suggest that suffering is the road to hope. It is a road less traveled in my life.

I live in a bubble wrapped existence where the extent of my suffering is a power outage for a few hours or failing to meet some arbitrary expectation. I can imagine that many of us in the Church in the United States also do not suffer much at all. Which of course begs the question - if we suffer little do we hope for less?

Trading Hope for Optimism

Dr. Namsoon Kang shared in a recent class the difference between optimism and hope. Dr. Kang noted that optimism is rooted in data. That is when there is a lot of bad news, we might look for data to give us a reason to be optimistic about the future. Data is the basis for our silver linings and we become dependent upon the data to keep us optimistic.

If the stock market is up or our candidates poll numbers are high, then we remain optimistic about our future.

Do we want to settle for optimism? Photo by  Nathan Dumlao  on  Unsplash

Do we want to settle for optimism? Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

It is interesting that if we are not able to find the data to counterbalance the bad news, then we have little to be optimistic about. Thus data is the root of both optimism and pessimism. Data, in our world, has become the idol we look toward to help us make sense and directs us how to feel.

Hope is not rooted in data. Which may be why materialists, skeptics, and many non-theists struggle to be hopeful. If we look for data before we decide to be hopeful then we are not looking for hope, we are looking for optimism. Hope is not rooted in data, it is rooted in the struggle.

Christianity does not talk about optimism at all. Christians are not optimists, we are hopeful. Christians do not dismiss data, for instance Christians ought to be concerned about the recent data of the warming earth. However bad this data is, Christians remain hopeful because the struggle to live with this new reality and change behavior is what we hope for.

The reality is too often we Christians are trading hope for optimism. We are giving up our hope because the data convinces us that the future of the church is not great. Hope and optimism are not interchangeable words/ideas. The struggles in the church now and in the future may not breed optimism, but will surely produce hope.

Practicing Faith, Hope and Love at the same time

Listening the to the great MockingCast the other day and one of the hosts (Scott Jones) made mention of a book by Thomas Halik entitled Patience with God. In the book, there is a quote from Adel Bestavros (who I have no idea who this is which is probably a clear indication that I don't know how to us Google). Bestavros said (I may be paraphrasing): "Patience with others is love, patience with self is hope and patience with God is faith." 

For the talk about how the church needs to preach practical sermons that connect people with what is in the Bible with their lives...

For all the marketing that goes on to ensure that small groups have the latest resource and accompanying video to discuss...

For all the concern that people don't go to church because it is irrelevant to daily life. 

For all the effort we put into thinking about what it means to live the spiritual life...

It all may come down to a discipline that we just don't want to practice - patience.

Hope in Baseball (and Christ)

Each spring there is a sense of hope that moves through the hearts of so many people. There is a sense that this is the year that all the pain of the past will be destroyed and that all the shame of mistakes and falling short will be redeemed. It is the sense that finally, after much work, recovery from injury, getting the right leaders and trusting in the basic fundamentals that this is the year the Cubs will win the Major League Championship. 

This sense of hope has moved through the hearts of Cub fans for over 100 years. There is always hope that this is the year the Cubbies, or any team for that matter, will overcome all the difficulties and struggles of the long season in order to stand victorious. And even if they don't, well there is always next year. 

As Peter Gomes said in his book The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus:

 “Hope is not merely the optimistic view that somehow everything will turn out all right in the end if everyone just does as we do. Hope is the more rugged, the more muscular view that even if things don’t turn out all right and aren’t all right, we endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us.”

The thing about baseball fans is there is a sense of hope and not just optimism. These fans don't abandon the team just because they did not preform the way the fan hoped they would have. Fans are not driven by optimism, but by hope. They will turn out even when the team stinks and all hope is lost. 

 The question for the disciple of Christ in the Easter season is are we just optimistic about the Way of Christ or are we hopeful?