Hope and Joy

Baptist Sunday morning worship service in Goma.

Baptist Sunday morning worship service in Goma.

We are living in a period of significant turmoil. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the current political climate. It is often difficult to know how to react to issues such as mass migration and religious pluralism, the numerous ongoing geopolitical conflicts, the large social issues including gun violence, marriage equality, #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, the developing ecological crises, as well as recent high-profile suicides.

Perhaps one common response is to feel powerless. We may feel we lack resources, that the church is itself struggling for its own existence and identity, perhaps even that the church’s historic beliefs no longer speak in any meaningful way to this tumultuous world that God loves.

What hope do we really have?

On one of my trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo, we arrived when the M23 rebels had taken control of Goma, the major city on the DRC’s eastern border.

A colleague and myself were invited to meet with an ecumenical gathering of church leaders. These leaders, from a wide theological and denominational spectrum, asked us a simple question: what is hope?

They talked of planting new shoots and every few months a force would come through and destroy all that they had planted. Did God not promise to protect God’s people? Had they not prayed enough?

These were real questions demanding real theological answers. Yet, it would be the height of foolishness for me to pretend to speak to this context.

First, the question of hope is not an easy one, and second, it is an immediate question, one which attaches to community and political contexts. Hope is something which informs our lives now.

What hope do we have in this world of turmoil – a hope which is not simply wishful thinking that things might be different, but one with some form of present reality, a hope which lives?

One consequence of the terrorist attacks of September 11 is a focus on the eschatological and the apocalyptic, on an idea of the ‘End Times’.

This is a reoccurring theme in theological treaties, in the geopolitical rhetoric of the US and ISIS, and in popular culture.

As one example, zombie movies and television shows, such as The Walking Dead, speak to living in a world destroyed. In this world, there is no hope for a new world. Survival is the driving motivation. This paradigm informs how we relate to other human beings we encounter: we distrust them and build walls around ourselves to protect what resources we have to survive (food, water, weapons). Our imagination is being shaped by this idea of living in the end of all things.

Interpreting Christian eschatology in these terms creates a problem because no account of hope is sufficient for a context which lies beyond hope.

German theologian Jürgen Moltmann questions this link between eschatology and end. For Moltmann, Christian eschatology focuses not on “the end: the end of life, the end of history, or the end of the world. Instead, the focus of truly Christian eschatology is the beginning: the beginning of true life, the beginning of the kingdom of God and the beginning of the new creation of all things.”

The eschatological begins in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is the ground of Christian hope. It is a hope which looks not to an unknown future, but the present “recollecting and making-present of the crucified and risen Christ. Because the eschatological is the beginning of a new life – of life in the resurrection – hope rests within the community, even under the conditions set by the ‘principalities and powers’.

As to the physical form hope takes, we need go no further than joy.

Joy is the embodiment of hope. It is that astonishment of living in that new beginning. It is to rejoice and so engage in the worship of the living God. It is to move beyond yourself in sharing this joy with others.

How might we, as a community, respond to this time of turmoil?

We live in the hope of the new beginning and so lives of joy, of celebration and of moving towards the other in love, peace, patience and kindness.

In the words of Nehemiah 8:10: “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

Our hope is being hospitable in the joy of the Lord. This is the calling of our community.

We live in a time of turmoil, but not one without hope and joy.

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