Read: Psalm 25; Lamentations 3; Romans 15:1-13; Ephesians 4
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”
Know the hope.
But what is hope?
Hope is one of those words that is overused to the point of gutting it of real meaning. In much common use, hope is really made equivalent to “want”.
In this, it’s really saying “this is what we’d like to happen.”
I hope I get that promotion.
I hope my team wins.
I hope those family members don’t get into one of their usual arguments over Thanksgiving.
I hope I can get away for some vacation some time next year (these latter two may be connected hopes).
Such anemic hopes are often the opposite of being content, the kind of content that Paul says he finds in all circumstances.
We struggle with such hopes because they are rooted in our desires, or our variously achievable assertion of will.
When we get what we want, we feel victorious, and that’s an addictive kind of experience. When we don’t get what we want, we linger in an identity crisis of one kind or another, and that’s an experience that cannot be sustained so has to be resolved one way or another.
Driven to either more achievement or to resolve our sense of lack, we enter into forms of frenzy.
When caught in this chaos, I find it hard to be content in any circumstances. When things are going well, I look to see how much more well they can get. When things aren’t going well it is easy to fall into anxiety or distraction.
The early monastics used the term “acedia” to describe this kind of spiritual depression, where our will and emotions are caught in a trap of disoriented yearning, and we lose sight of the calling we have been given in Christ.
A person caught in this can be fully of busyness, always rushing around, always trying to do more and more, always wanting to hear what this person or that person thinks or is doing. Or they can be caught in despair, no longer caring, no longer loving, no longer confident God is really at work.
This isn’t about ‘clinical depression’ because a lot of people living within acedia can seem very full of life and optimistic. But they are oriented in their wants and their wants are driving them in constant frenzy. Or it can look like depression, but has a culpable quality because it is embraced as being identity and objective perspective.
Wants drive us to frenzy.
So often we take our yearnings and turn them into temporary satisfactions, drinking sea water when we’re caught on the ocean in a life boat.
Hope leads us to peace.
Real hope, substantive hope, is a driving vision of the future in which we find our self satisfied in a deep sense.
Hope isn’t just about our wants, though often our wants are folded into the bigger vision of our hope. Hope is salvation because what we need, what we most need, is something far too many people have despaired to ever find.
Who am I? Who can I trust? Am I a real person?
The hope offered in Christ gives answers to these questions, an inviting answer of welcoming into a new community of eternally valued life.
We don’t have to strive to prove ourselves having worth. God love us.
We don’t have to give into the patterns of the world and the ways it says we have to establish our identity or order to find approval or acceptance. We have value in Christ.
We don’t have to fight or undermine others in order to show ourselves stronger, wiser, better. We have a place at God’s table, sharing and laughing and singing with others.
Hope is an orientation because it provides a vision that addresses all the concerns and questions in life. It gives us something beyond us to focus on, and keeps us from indulging the whims, distractions, sins that undermine our love of others.
Eschatologies that are established in anxiety or fear always push toward dysfunctional communities because they are rooted in a perspective of the world and the flesh. They are eschatologies of want: wanting to escape, wanting to dominate, wanting to indulge.
An eschatology that is rooted in substantive hope offers a different path through life.
Patience, because frenzy isn’t God’s way.
Perseverance, because the present frustrations aren’t in control.
Joy, because in walking with the Spirit we experience a new kind of life in every moment.
Gentleness, because it’s not our will we’re fighting for but seeking that God’s will be done. And God is full of grace.
Hope is the path of keeping in step with the Spirit, the way of understanding that life is much bigger and much deeper and much livelier than the wan attempts the world celebrates.
And because of this bigger vision of life, we grow in our capacity to love with the very love God resonates, seeking the best for others, seeking their fullness and possibility.
No longer anxious, we can also find rest, celebrating the Sabbath as a weekly expression of our deep, if sometimes disciplined, hope in God’s eternal presence.
Is hope leading you this day? If not, what is driving your sense of self and decisions?
Where are the areas of frustration or distraction in your life? Are you doing things to prove yourself to others (or to your own self)? How is the hope we find in God’s Great Story helping you to navigate the crises within your community?
Stop for a little bit right now.
Pray for peace. Pray for rest.
Pray that despite all indications the world throws at us, we can hope with a genuine hope that transcends all possibilities because the Spirit is at work and Christ is with us.
Thanks be to God.