There are many reasons for hope these days. We live in a time of dynamic, positive, and hopeful changes. For example, we’re witnessing vast social, cultural, and political movements that foster heightened justice, equality, freedom, and mutual respect around the world. Medical ‘miracles’ abound, as science continues to make rapid strides in managing and curing any number of diseases. Evolving technological breakthroughs have contributed to higher standards of living for millions of people in every part of our planet. We’ve already traveled out of this world, having landed on the moon during the last century. And there’s a real prospect for human travel to Mars in the decades to come. Further, in the face of significant global challenges, courageous young leaders are emerging to provide vision and direction for the solutions we demand. As each of us sees this kind of progress, we applaud. We encourage. We identify with others and with their mighty accomplishments. In fact, we collectively ‘join in’ the positive, joyous sentiments that accompany such acts of human progress. These things become part of the ‘hope story’ that we tell ourselves about the world around us.
This kind of hope isn’t something merely nice to have. In truth, it’s absolutely crucial to our sense of identity, wellbeing, and our very survival as people. So, given its importance, what is hope? It’s defined as a fervent wish for something desirable to happen. It’s the expectation of fulfillment—then the act of holding onto sustained trust in someone or something, however big or even improbable the actual outcome might be. Human beings need hope because it helps to ground our core, individual identities and felt purpose. We need hope because it gets us through difficult and challenging times in life. Hope feeds our ongoing resilience to setbacks and doubts. It helps to nurture our patience over the long haul, facilitating a longer-term and more expansive view of things. Some argue that hope even works within our human bodies to promote pain management and healing. As such, hope is potentially quite powerful.
And yet, increasing numbers of people are losing hope around important components of their respective lives, their communities, and our world. A variety of current, troubling trends actively work against our abiding sense of hope. Gun crime, terrorism, and domestic abuse abound. Racism, bigotry, nationalism, misogyny, and intolerance have increasingly spawned acts of discrimination, hatred, and violence against others. Too many have been left behind economically, socially, and emotionally because of marginalization by more ‘powerful’ members of our society. In another sphere, our climate crisis is unfolding far more rapidly than previously expected– bringing tangible, terrifying changes to our weather and our prospects for future human survival. In fact, a growing number of young adults have begun to candidly and honestly question whether it even makes sense to bring children into a world with so many presently real and potential future problems. For what kind of a world and planet might we be subjecting them to? Fundamentally and even more broadly, too many of us are losing hope in the ‘story’ that we tell ourselves and others about ‘tomorrow’. In the face of this, we need hope more than ever before.
Human hope draws on our skills, abilities, and talents. It’s nurtured through our creative, resilient thinking and our constructive, positive self-talk. It’s reinforced through our networks of relational support in our families, amongst friends, in our communities, in our places of worship, and in the workplace. And it’s continuously supplemented through our ability to acquire and appropriately apply wisdom in looking at the challenges before us. But, more than any of that, hope is intrinsically found Within Us— not in relation to other people, things, or circumstances around us. It’s been embedded internally without any action needed on our part. Because its source is the very Spark of the Divine placed in our respective hearts by God. This spark literally defines us, from birth, in our truest, unique, and most existential identities as God’s created and inherently loved, hopeful beings.
However, many of us don’t know this God, I’m afraid. For, far too often, our religious faiths and their associated stories are grounded in our intrinsic human sinfulness. With inherent flaws born into us. You know, passed forward from way back. From the beginning, actually. You remember Adam and Eve, don’t you? The Garden of Eden debacle. In fact, we do remember. Painfully so. And we don’t forget it, either. In part, because we’re regularly reminded about it, even in many of our churches from the pulpit. Now, to be clear, I’m not naïve here. Human beings are capable of hurtful, even hateful, thoughts and words. And, at times, people act on these to the serious detriment of themselves and others. But that doesn’t mean that we’re all ‘born’ into it. Nor should we carry this comparative, guilt-ridden burden each and every day of our lives. Yet too many of us do. Too many of us live in existential anxiety and even a self-loathing paralysis at times. And, in the process, we excessively tune into the externals, while simultaneously tuning out ‘That of God’ within each of us. Often because we don’t feel worthy of this loving and identifying foundational presence.
Now, we talk about God’s freely given grace toward us. But many of us actually live as if we have to earn this grace back. With energy-sapping regularity and repetition. We track our indiscretions. We fret our doubts and our errors. We work to act right, to live right, to be right, and to stay right. We live each moment in an effort to ‘return’ to God’s grace… to be ‘healed’ in God’s critical eyes. In order to achieve this, some of us rely almost exclusively on weekly or even daily religious, externally administered sacraments of guilt ‘exorcism’– to the near exclusion of more balanced and spiritually-centering activities such as inward reflection, prayer, guided meditation, and resiliency building on our own parts. Others of us go in a different direction altogether, simply rationalizing our suffering. We wear it as a badge of honor. Because we must deserve our suffering in some perverse sort of way. And we need to bear up under it to make amends with God. Alternatively, we become angry when we feel that we can’t measure up. Or when we stumble or fail along the way. Or when we think we’re not amongst the ‘chosen’ ones of God. Or we become judgmental of others in an effort to appear somehow better in our own eyes. Or in God’s. And, if we can’t ‘be’ better, we believe that God must be abandoning or ignoring our problems. Perhaps when we need God the very most. In effect, we think that God has ‘Ghosted’ us amidst our greatest personal trials.
Here’s the problem with this view of God. When we define God’s love as somehow conditional or highly selective in nature, we’ve created a binary view of things. Tragically, it’s not a big leap from there to misrepresent the idea of Human Salvation as a wholly privatized and selective one. We make it about us individually, not about all of us collectively. We further misuse the term when we view it as positioning us somehow for someday soon. Down the road instead of today. A single seat on a hoped-for, future private life raft to Heaven. First class, in fact. For we are ‘saved’ for tomorrow. Because we ‘earned’ it or were pre-chosen for it—perhaps even at the expense of someone else that we’ve ‘edged out’ in a zero-sum contest. You know, the poor guy who’ll be ‘left behind’.
But step back for a minute and think about this. Then ask some important questions about these underlying assumptions. Do we actually believe that an eternally loving, bountifully grace-filled, and universally life-giving God is concerned with this kind of background noise? With things like taking tickets to the Pearly Gates some day in the future? With things like who gets in and who gets pushed out of the heavenly winner’s circle? You know, in the future. What kind of God would actually worry about this stuff anyway? And, as such, ponder for a moment, the kind of God that you worship and follow. Reflect on the intrinsic ‘character’ of the Divine.
Why would God create us only to destroy the vast majority of us at the end of time? Why would God create the world, only to neglect it in favor of some perfect future state? What kind of God deprioritizes human death, poverty, marginalization, destruction, starvation, disease and sickness, grief, and sorrow around us right now? What kind of God spends time keeping tallies of all of our individual discretions? What kind of God supposedly loves us unconditionally while simultaneously dishing out human suffering as some payback or penance for our having fallen off the individual salvation wagon? What kind of God would do this kind of stuff for goodness sake? If this actually is the case, we have real, abiding reasons for human hopelessness.
But what if there’s another, more hopeful, ‘take’ on this story? What if God has created us All in love to send us out into the world? Not just the ‘saved’ people. But everyone. And not just for someday. But for right now in particular. Further, not as part of an eventual celestial voyage to some far-way place called Heaven, resting comfortably above the clouds and the stratosphere. But right here on this earth… the very home that God created for us in the first place. Here and with a real purpose. To collectively live and work together. In peace. In ‘just’ fellowship and authentic communion. In Hope. Where everyone is welcomed, loved, and needed. And where every element of our lives matters to God in real time. In all of life’s current fullness.
In that very spirit, I believe that God’s life in us is a divine and loving light, sometimes flickering, sometimes burning brightly. Our job is to keep this light burning within. To make it burn ever more brightly, even while we simultaneously draw daily strength and sustenance from this eternal source. Then to share our light with others in harmony, community, healing, and Hope— all powerful ways in which our light-filled ‘salvation’ moments can be used by God for God’s own purposes, whatever or whenever they may be. The light that I’m describing is our compass, our guide, our truest self, our outward ‘ripples for good, and the very meaning of life. A God-filled and truly saved life. A just and interdependent life. I mean real life. Salvation life. Lived joyfully in this moment. Together. Now, that’s a good story. Better yet, it’s the one that God is really telling us. It’s our story, as well, if we choose to listen to, adopt, embrace, and live by it. And, in the end, it’s the real, abiding, and most lasting Reason to Hope…. whatever our respective circumstances may be.