A Biblical Hope
Hope is foundational for us because it gives meaning and shape to our life as a community and our personal lives. Hopes shape our vision of how we are to be the church. A good is example is that of a student entering college with the hope of being an architect, a petroleum engineer or a medical doctor. The student’s hope for the future shapes the choices of things like what courses to take and how to spend their time and energy.
In Ephesians 1:18 Paul prays: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling….” In Romans 15:13 we read “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The author of I Peter wrote: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”,
In 1st Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul held three things up for our attention: “Faith, hope and love.” Faith is trusting God. Love is the virtue that marks our lives and our community as a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s pretty clear why those two values are held in such high esteem but, why “Hope”?
Hope is foundational for the Christian community because it gives meaning and shape to our life as a community and our personal lives. Hopes shape our vision of how we are to be the church. A good is example is that of a student entering college with the hope of being an architect, a petroleum engineer or a medical doctor. The student’s hope for the future shapes the choices of things like what courses to take and how to spend their time and energy.
If you think that the end of history is annihilation, that there is no life after this one then the old Budweiser slogan ‘ you only go around once in life so grab for all the gusto you can get’ would be a way to live consistent with your highest hopes. It makes American consumerism, narcissism, and hedonism seem reasonable. “She who dies with the most toys wins.” Doesn’t seem to be very hopeful. Maybe that’s what’s wrong…. Hope has become a scarce commodity.
The most popular view today among Christians today seems is that the goal of redemptive history is that individual believers will live in heaven for ever. The Anglican Cleric and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright has written that “Very often people have come to the New Testament with the presumption that ‘going to heaven when you die’ is the implicit point of it all….” Then he adds “They acquire that viewpoint somewhere but not from the New Testament.” Calvinist minister Anthony Hoekema, suggests that we’ve picked up this notion from the lyrics of some of our most loved hymns. How about these lyrics: “In mansions of glory and endless delight / I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright.” It may comfort us to think that we will spend eternity somewhere off in space, far away from earth, in some ethereal heaven, wearing white robes, plucking Irish harps, singing hymns while flitting from cloud to cloud.
If that’s your hope for the future it is highly unlikely that you would give much thought to caring for the environment or addressing the pressing needs of vulnerable people. The only activity with any lasting significance would be evangelism, preparing others for a spiritual heaven. You see, our hope for the future shapes the choices we make in our lives today.
What the Bible spells out is that God’s intention for God’s redemptive work is not an etherealized heaven, ‘up there’, apart from creation and outside history and certainly not individualistic as if salvation is the flight of the individual soul to God. It is a restored creation. If your hope for the future centers on God restoring this earth creation care becomes quite important.
So let’s start where the Bible does. According to Genesis 1:31 God created the world ‘very good’ and declared it so. Then, according to our salvation history, God placed humanity in this beautiful and fruitful garden with the expectation that humanity would delight in its’ rich diversity and enjoy fellowship with God. We were charged with caring for creation as a corporate task. This, the Bible says, was God’s intention.
Our salvation history also tells us that human beings rebelled against God in arrogance and disobedience which had the direct result of creation becoming polluted. We know from our own lives that there are consequences to our actions, good or bad. So the story that begins in Genesis is that God sets out to remove the ruinous effects of our behavior so that creation can again be as it once was.
God chooses Israel to be the demonstration project of how life on earth was supposed to work and to embody the promise of God’s purpose of redemption. Have you noticed how the life of Israel has always been connected to the land? That is where she is to live out her life in obedience to God. In various ways God gave direction to govern Israel in every part of her life; social, political, economic, environmental, familial and personal.
We read of Israel’s repeated failures and of the Prophets looking forward to the day when Israel will return to the land when her life will be restored to live into God’s intention. Any Israelite would describe hope to you as God restoring the nation to their land, that the land would be fruitful, and under the ruler-ship of God earth would be just and peaceful and that even the animals would live in harmony. In the Old Testament the destiny of humanity is inextricably linked with life on the earth. It’s so beautifully pictured as “The Peaceable Kingdom”.
Jesus didn’t change the Jewish hope in a restored earth. He not only affirmed the Old Testament view he fulfilled it. The very dogmatic statement is that Jesus is Christ. It is clearly beyond us to grasp that the Creator intentionally enters that which is created for the purpose of restoring it. We treasure the stories of Jesus’ birth, we struggle to practice Jesus’ wisdom and we are in awe when we read of his rejection and execution and we glory in the story of his resurrection and then his return to abide with us as Spirit. In Jesus, creation and redemption are inextricably tied. Salvation is the healing of a broken world.
Jesus and the Jewish leadership had a huge difference of opinions over how it was to come to be. “To the Gentiles, foolishness to the Jews a stumbling block…” John the Evangelist declares Out of his full store we have all received grace upon grave through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; but God’s only Son, he who is nearest to the Father’s heart, he has made him known.’…”This is God’s chosen one” That conflict resulted in Jesus’ death. Death is the limit of humanity. In Jesus’ death God made such limitation God’s own. It is the meaning of reconciliation. There are abundant notions grounded in economics and juris prudence about how all that works. None are sufficient. We can say that in Jesus’ light humanity sees its own darkness. Our salvation history says that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a preview of life in the age to come. A better understanding of Jesus’ promise of preparing a place in the Father’s house is not of some remote heaven but of our living in the presence of God’s spirit. The fulfillment of our prayer “…Thy kingdom come on earth…”
When we read in Acts 26 of the Apostle Paul defending himself before King Agrippa he made two astounding statements about the hope he held and his ministry up until that time. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made to our fathers by God, to which promise our twelve tribes hope to attain, serving God fervently night and day. For the sake of this hope, king Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.
A few verses later Paul testifies that, I did not disobey the heavenly vision. But… I made known the command to repent and to turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. Because of these things, having caught me in the temple, The Jews tried to kill me.” He said: ” I stand until this day, … saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said was going to happen; that the Christ must suffer, and that he, the first to rise from the dead, would announce the dawn to Israel and to the Gentiles..
Paul’s testimony included “no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said were going to happen”, the same hope the twelve tribes of Israel held.
Paul draws on Isaiah when he refers to the promises made to the fathers. “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:9
All too often our view of the future is quite limited and revolves around us. Me. But the kingdom of God is comprehensive. Creation is restored and all humanity with it.
What does that say about our role in this work of God? Redemption is about the restoration of the whole of our life and calling and it follows that our mission is to embody the good news in that every part of our lives including the public life of our culture. It means that we are to be the good news in our care for the environment, our efforts in the interest of economic and criminal justice, in our business ethics, accuracy in the media, in education and study, within our family, international relations.
N.T. Wright said: “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
“Salvation, then, is not “going to heaven” but “being raised to life in God’s new heaven and new earth….
Revelation tells us that the dwelling place of God is with us. That’s no new thing to Quakers. We have for centuries held to the understanding that Christ has come to teach his people himself. We are to be God’s people and we have experienced of God’s presence with us. The conclusion of Revelation is that the old order of things has passed away. Humanity and Creator are reconciled, our breach has been healed. Love reigns. There is our hope.