Thursday 16 October 2014

Hope in the future

Last week I was reading Psalm 52:
Why do you boast, O mighty one,
    of mischief done against the godly?
    All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
    you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good,
    and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that devour,
    O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous will see, and fear,
    and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
“See the one who would not take
    refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches,
    and sought refuge in wealth!”
But I am like a green olive tree
    in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
    forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
    because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
    I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
As I listened to it, I realised how unlike the psalmist I am.  When I see people doing bad stuff I don't look at them, mystified, and think "how can you possibly think God will let you get away with that forever?".  Instead, I'm more likely to feel depressed or outraged.  Either way, I'm tacitly assuming they'll get away with it forever, just like they are.

Yet part of the Christian message is that that's not true! As the psalm says, "God will break [them] down forever; he will snatch and tear [them] from [their] tent; he will uproot [them] from the land of the living."

Because that's mostly likely only going to happen in the distant future, I tend to forget that it's so and live as if it's never going to happen.

Martin's reading a book about some of this at the moment: J├╝rgen Moltmann's Theology of Hope.  In it Moltmann is talking about how Christians often forget the big hope of the gospel: that a time is coming when God is going to make everything good and perfect.

One thing Martin mentioned from it that struck me was about activism.  Christians absolutely should be involved in striving to make the world a better place: that's part of being the 'first-fruits of the new creation' and of loving our neighbours as ourselves.  However, Moltmann argues that we shouldn't be overly invested in these things: partly because we know that they'll never really solve the problems of the world (just alleviate them somewhat) and partly because we know that the real solution is coming.

I found that really helpful in thinking about my own disappointment with the results of the recent election in New Zealand.  Yes, I do think things would have been better for the most vulnerable Kiwis if the Greens had gotten into government.  But things wouldn't have been utopian, because we'd still all be fallen sinful people, stuffing things up all over the place.  However, a time is coming when there won't be any poverty or disability any more.  I can hold onto the fact that the real solution is coming, and that tempers my disappointment that the partial and temporary solution I was hoping for isn't in place.

I've always been a bit nervous of focussing too much on a future where God makes everything perfect.  People insult Christians by describing us as people overly focussed on 'pie in the sky when you die'.  I realise now that I've over-reacted to that insult and have, instead, given far too little thought to celebrating the future God has promised us.

So over the last week or so I've been practising a new spiritual discipline.  Whenever I've been disappointed by something, I've taken the time to think: is that something that would occur after Jesus comes back?  If not (and it generally isn't), then I remind myself that things won't always be like this.
  • When I've looked at our dingy white hand towels (dingy because I've refused to use bleach for cosmetic purposes since I learned that doing so forms dioxins), I've taken time to celebrate that a time is coming when I can have beautiful things without destroying the health of my fellow-creatures;
  • When I'm tired and sore and nauseous, I've tried to remind myself that God has promised me a new body one day;
  • When I read of the suffering of one person in Sierra Leone who lost four people close to him to ebola in just one week, I mourn with him, but also remind myself that God has promised us a future without such dreadful grief.
May God remind you, also, of the good future he has promised to all his children, and may that give you fresh courage to face the challenges in front of you as you work as his ambassador wherever he has place you!

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