Moore: The miraculous power of hope is that, in Christ, we are never alone (column)
A disclaimer: While I don’t consider myself a very religious person, I am a sincere follower of Christ and my thoughts today are from that worldview. Whatever value these thoughts may have, they are undoubtedly insufficient for the topic at hand.
Be you a person of faith or not, I am convinced this topic is of utmost importance, and my hope is to give you something to think about as we enter into the Christmas season — a season ostensibly about joy, but in reality one of the most emotionally difficult seasons for many, perhaps you.
One of the great dilemmas of the Christian faith is just how we are to understand the miraculous power of God, who says he loves us, when we are in the midst of sustained, unanswerable, suffering.
It is one thing to ask the philosophical question, “how can there be a just God when bad things happen to good people?” It’s something different altogether to cry out from the depths of one’s soul, “God, why does this suffering not end? What is the point? I see your miracles in scripture, and you speak of your power to change lives, then why does this situation — which involves precious lives — not change?”
Christianity has offered differing answers to this question. Worst is the erroneous religious concept that we continue in sickness and suffering because we aren’t moral enough, repentant enough or doing enough of the right religious things to warrant the intervening action of God. If we experience sustained suffering, well then, somehow we must deserve it.
Now, I’m not talking about when we face the clear consequences of our choices and actions. Christians are no more protected from the consequences of life any more than we are protected from the pain, suffering and injustice of life. But God does not give a little girl cancer or a father ALS or a loved one mental health struggles or withhold healing for the same because the parents or anyone else disappointed God or just didn’t pray sincerely enough. To teach this is tantamount to spiritual abuse, and it is not the teaching of the New Testament.
What, then, does the New Testament teach about God’s presence and power in the midst of suffering? This is, of course, a huge question, but with one essential answer: hope. And herein lies the challenge centuries of Christian culture has struggled to accept: The New Testament concept of hope isn’t that our immediate circumstances will work out the way we hope they will.
It sounds contradictory, I know, but as followers of Christ, our great hope is not that our current need (such as deliverance from suffering) will be met the way we, well, hope. Regardless of what any teacher or religious tradition may say, the New Testament does not promise that Christians will be protected — or delivered — from the brokenness and difficulty of this life. I fully believe that God at times supernaturally intervenes in our temporary circumstances, but this is not promised to us, and more importantly, it is not our true source of hope.
The true hope of the Gospel is rooted in eternity, and it is the hope of a new heart and transformed life, not a new job or a healed body. It is the profound hope that life as it is, is not all there is, and at the end of the story is the fullness of God’s glory, not the decay of our current experience.
This is not to minimize the importance of the struggles we face. Far from it. The miraculous power of hope is that right now, in Christ, we are never alone, and so we do not lose heart. We never cease encouraging one another, we are not taken out, we work to make the world a better place, and most importantly, we never stop loving. This is the hope that will lead us to trust God with our pain and struggles and to step with trusting obedience into the difficult but redemptive path of brokenness and surrender.
From time to time, people will ask me if I’ve ever witnessed a miracle, and my answer is yes. It is the miracle of regular people in great difficulty who do not lose heart. It is the miracle of a person who willingly surrenders their pride and brokenness so that healing and redemption can happen.
Most of all, it is the miracle of hurting people, perhaps like you, who don’t lose hope, even when hanging on by the faith of their fingernails. It is this miracle of hope my church is exploring this Christmas season. If you want a good excuse for a cup of coffee, I would love to continue the conversation. Here’s hoping.
Ethan Moore is the pastor of Trinity Church in Edwards. He and his wife Lisa have lived in the valley since 1995.