All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrew 11:13
Someday I’ll overcome my penchant for self-destructive choices that seem to afflict me from time to time, like eating dessert for lunch and skipping out on any real food, or watching TV instead of exercising, or disengaging from an honest conversation out fear. Someday I’ll make the right choice every time, but not yet.
Someday we’ll live in a world that’s more equitable and less consumeristic, where there won’t be so many billions living on less than two dollars a day, while the wealthiest minority consumes vast resources on extravagence instead of sharing our resources and helping those without experience a fuller and richer life. Someday, but not yet.
One of the great challenges in our faith is that we’re called to embody now, in this present moment, some measure of the God’s future reign. This is what makes us people of hope. We are the light of the world according to Jesus, and as such it’s our calling to allow that light to shine. But there are two gaps between light and darkness with which we must deal:
1. There’s the gap in my own life. Paul writes about in Romans 7 when he laments that his good intentions don’t consistently lead to good actions. I want to live well, but don’t always do so. This gap needs to lead to confession, not condemnation, which is why Paul follows his lament in Romans 7 with the promise of Romans 8 that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ. When we fail, we shouldn’t lower the bar and make failure the norm. Neither should we beat ourselves up and drop out of God’s story. We simply confess and get on with it, realizing that we’re “not yet” whole.2. There’s the gap between the way the world should be and the way the world is. If you click on the words “more equitable” above, you’ll discover that you’re wealthy. You already know that all of us are part of an unsustainable system, whereby we, 5% of the world’s population, consume 25% of the world’s resources. The inequities, pollution, genocide, human trafficking, AIDS crises, illiteracy, and tribal wars are collectively numbing, and it’s tempting to either live in a state of denial and apathy, or despair and rage, all the time. Instead, we’re called to “abound in hope” right in the midst of all this rubbish.
We can only find hope by recognizing the reality of trajectory. We’re moving towards a just, healed future. But we’re not there yet. In the meantime, we’re invited to live as fully present in the midst of the mess. This requires finding contentment, even though we’re nowhere near our destination of God’s good reign made fully visible. Our contentment, ironically, comes from realizing that we’re not there yet, that we’re still travelling, that we are, as Hebrews says, “strangers”. Cancer is foreign. So is the insane poverty and pollution. So are suicide bombers, and loneliness and infidelity.
With both the personal and collective gap between the now and the “not yet”, I find that contentment comes from my confidence in the trajectory. I believe that God is changing me, and that God is going to change world. Contentment also comes from celebrating the signs of hope that are all around us every day, functioning as foretastes of God’s future reign. We see, we celebrate, and our hope abounds.
I’ll write about one of those signs of hope tomorrow… in the meantime, I pray that, right in the midst of our personal and collective failures, we will find the grace and faith to “abound in hope.”