Hope lives because someone didn't shelter-in-place long enough.
Every person or entity these days seems to have made a "statement" about COVID-19. For a while, I was wondering what places like Dunkin', Honda or Warby Parker could possibly have to say. Now, I get it. We're even repeating the same words, like 'crisis', 'turbulent times' and 'unprecedented', to name a few. What can neighborhood churches possibly add? 'See you in a few weeks'? Quite likely, if you're reading this, the temporary shuttering of churches hasn't affected your life. The irony of a church's doors being closed during the Easter season of all things is curious. The church (like everything else) might be shut in but it's not shut up....
Maybe the news and consequences of this global pandemic has caused you to stop long enough to realize a few things. Everyone's different, but deep inside each of us is a restlessness that's probably been aggravated by sheltering-in-place. I call this restlessness being born with a 'spiritual hole in your heart'. That hole is massive; in fact, it's 'eternal'. God put it there, and it can't be filled by anything else in your life except him. Only he can rest that heart of yours.
Middle-aged people like myself have been hearing these last several weeks something to the tune of "get your affairs in order." In other words, if you don't have a will, waste no more time. Get one. You don't know what's going to happen. And, it isn't religious types saying it either. But, doesn't that ominous note make you pause about the possibilities of an after-life? Maybe, you don't know what you "believe" when it comes to matters beyond life on this earth and a relationship with a 'Higher Power'. Then this IS a good time to question or even doubt what you believe. Humble yourself to 'poke holes' in your worldview. Ask yourself what it is you actually believe, and then take a few more moments to trace how you got to that point of believing and why it even matters. Is all belief the same as truth, and are all beliefs equal? Who gets to decide the validity of personal beliefs?
Though somewhat connected, there's an important difference between hoping 'for' and hoping 'in' something. You might hope for a Coronavirus vaccine, but you're hoping in the institutions and professionals to make it happen. You might hope for a stimulus check to hit your bank account soon, but you're hoping in the powers-that-be to deliver on their promise. I can write a song that I hope will be a hit someday, but without a backer(s) to my hope, that song will be just a personal memoir unknown to the masses. The difference between 'for' and 'in' is significant. Prepositions matter in crisis times. They matter, too, especially when all seems to be going well. The kind of hope that you need during a pandemic is the same kind of hope you need when there isn't one.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
Preparing for the Unknown
When you and I are out of our league on a problem, we seek trustworthy people or sources to help us. And here is where the connection between hoping 'for' and hoping 'in' is vital. The way to prepare for what you don't know is coming is to let God have the microphone. Remember, he's the only one who can possibly satisfy the deepest longings of who you are (whether or not you agree or care). The reason you don't think about God isn't because he doesn't exist or is 'out there' unconcerned but because he's not really on your radar. He doesn't seem to inhabit a body or be on any of the major communication channels these days. So, why care? What's the big deal?
Whatever you've heard or thought about God, maybe you should just let God speak for himself. Though you can't 'see' him, he's alive and well. And, he's even communicated to us through his amazingly relevant autobiography, the Bible.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” -1st Peter 1:3-4
Hope's 'Ground Zero'
Living hope is both now and future. It is also a 100% secure. It is grounded in the sheer "mercy" of God. Mercy has both the idea of unrelenting compassion (moral) and withholding punishment (legal). You might not think of yourself in everyday terms as a 'sinner', but you probably would hardly deny perfection and a good deal of moral guilt if pressed. Welcome to my boat! But if you don't have Jesus Christ, from God's perspective, you are hopeless (Ephesians 2:12). The odds are stacked against you in a very significant, eternally devastating way. This isn't mere religious gobbledygook or hyperbole. It means that the only source of lasting hope is to be born into it. It's quite a supernatural transformation of heart and mind that leaves you on a completely different trajectory. Soon everything changes and you start to look at the world unlike ever before.
While it's nice to know that Someone can feel so moved so as to spare you a severe future, it is just one ground of hope. Often coupled with God's restraint is his grace. The other ground, then, for hope according to the Biblical quote above is 'through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead'. This is the part that if you don't accept will make it quite hard to have any lasting or living hope. You don't have to understand all the workings of a bodily resurrection from the dead, but you do have to believe in its possibility and especially that God is responsible for this. And you have to believe a Jew named Jesus actually rose to life again and walked out of a tomb with no human intervention. It is a fact that was witnessed by hundreds of people. It wasn't a conspiracy perpetuated by oral tradition. And, if it isn't true, then, every Christian you know is part of a pretty pathetic lot of people (1 Corinthians 15:19). If the miracle of that man's life after death isn't astounding enough, it gets better in that this pattern will be repeated a myriad times over for all who experience God's mercy and transfer their life's trust and hopes into Jesus Christ. In other words, you will be raised from the dead yourself. But when and to what?
[Part 2 of this already long article to come soon]
This article was written by Pastor Will Pareja. If you'd like to hear to a fuller message on true Living Hope, click here.