Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
You’ve likely met the peppy, seize-the-day sort who likes to begin every morning with a Venti-sized cup of cheerfulness, and blither to everyone, “Today’s the first day of the rest of your life! Get out there and grab it!” Such folks are so full of hope, so chipper, that you want to feed them into one. The rest of the year, we’re pretty sure their doctors aren’t properly supervising their medication. But every new year, every January, somehow we can relate to them a little. ’Cause on the new year, most people catch the hope bug.
The views expressed resemble this: “This year is gonna be great. Not like last year. Last year didn’t turn out at all like I hoped. I had this plan; I had that expectation; I believed certain things were gonna take place, but they didn’t. Unforeseen calamities. Tight budgets. New opportunities didn’t pan out. Old problems resurfaced. Last year sucked. But this year… this year’s gonna be different.”
By the middle of February—sometimes sooner, sometimes later—that optimism is gone, and replaced with the usual, “Meh. Same junk, different day.”
Why is that? Some of it has to do with our success at our new year’s resolutions. I don’t make ’em anymore—I resolve to fix problems as I find them, instead of accumulating them for January, or (which is more common) realizing that I don’t have any on the first, and scramble to come up with something… which I half-heartedly attempt, and give up by the eighth. The spirit wasn’t any more willing than the flesh. Evidence shows many are the same way: Resolutions are invented as answers to the ubiquitous, “What’s your resolutions?” But people don’t actually care enough to follow through with them, and won’t. Darn near everyone I know has started one of those programs where you read the bible in a year. Darned few of them ever survive Leviticus.
So, as their hope in personal change slowly evaporates, so does their hope for the promise of the new year. They gradually stop thinking about it; it’s not a new year anymore. Hope dies. It’s only picked back up on a case-by-case basis: Might get a new car, which’ll be better than the old one. Or a new job, which’ll be better than the old one. Or have a new kid, which’ll be better than… okay, let’s not go there, even though we all think it.
Christians tend to talk about hope around New Year’s—because everyone else is, so why can’t we? And churches make their own resolutions: Some schedule prayer times, or fasts, so as to seek God’s will for the new year. Largely that’s the same as his will for the old year: Love him, love neighbors; stop pretending to follow Jesus more than you do, or to be so busy, or too short of money, or have your messy life sorted out. Sometimes pastors schedule events, not because they’re looking for new direction, but because they wish their people would repent. Sometimes they’re just as dumbfounded. And like every other resolution, once the zeal wears off, things go back to the same old routine… till next year, when our Christmas bellies well up with hope (or is that food?) in time for the new year.
The only other times Christians talk about hope are when disaster strikes: People die, or are unwell, or lose jobs and money, or relationships end, or threats of all the above. Then we talk about putting our hope in God rather than transitory things. We talk about the resurrection, or the Kingdom of heaven, when God will put everything right and disaster won’t ever strike again. Sometimes we preemptively talk about these things before disaster strikes, just in case Christians delude ourselves into believing everything under Jesus will be sorted out like a romantic comedy. And sometimes we do a poor good job of it; consequently people quit Jesus when they find out your best life now is not, and never has been, a biblical guarantee.
So: New Years and disasters. Are those the only times we Christians focus on hope? For many, yes. Which means we’re really fumbling the ball.
The entire Christian life is supposed to be one of hope. We trust in Jesus to save us from sin and death, and to bring us the Kingdom. We’re meant to function in the Kingdom, not at the end of time, but right now, as if it’s arrived already, so near we can poke it. How’re you gonna lose hope of something when it’s so near? But we don’t bring it near. We picture it far away, at the end of time. Or, depending on your church, on the far side of the Great Tribulation—which you’re either fighting tooth and nail to prevent, or you’re trying to hasten by voting for Newt Gingrich.
Either way, for a lot of Christians the Kingdom is far, and so is their hope. Where there is no vision, no revelations of what God’s up to, no recognition of our proper role in the cosmic plan, people give up, and do as they like, (Proverbs 29.18) ’cause hope is wishful thinking, rather than something definite. Hope becomes an easy thing to give up on, as easy as a new year’s resolution, or a day left un-seized.
We can’t live like that. We may as well be pagans.
I’m not saying Christians should manufacture a therapeutic sense of hope for the sake of getting through life, and distract ourselves from the evils of this world with good deeds. Certainly I’ll be accused of it, with all this Kingdom talk. The focus should be on living in hope—living as if our hopes have been realized, because they absolutely will be. The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who asks for an advance on his Christmas bonus, and expects that the generous amount consumed it, only to discover that it barely scratched the surface.
That’s what our hope should look like.