The world seems to be falling apart.
Many people believe that we are in the apocalypse. It feels like everything is getting worse. First there was COVID-19. Over a million people in the US alone have died from the coronavirus. For about a year we had a death toll of a 9/11 once every three days.
The January 6th riots and the political leaders behind it have increased the divide in our country, leaving many worried about a civil war.
Politicians from a major political party are espousing Christian Nationalism, which has nothing to do with Christ, but everything to do with using God as a weapon against their political opponents.
Racism continues to infect the US. It feels like the last few years have emboldened racist attitudes and racist structures. The Breonna Taylor case was another example that in the United States police can kill a black person with impunity. As Brittany Packnett Cunningham claimed, “Black America was told once again…that a young black woman’s life was of less value than the dry wall that she slept next to.”
Russia’s war in Ukraine and the conflict between China and Taiwan have us worried on a global scale. Gas prices and inflation are fluctuating, with each side blaming the other.
We’ve been so divided on so many issues, unable to face big problems like covid, racism, injustice together. We blame and accuse, divide and hold onto grudges — how can we find a way forward? Where is the hope when we can’t even agree on basic facts?
To many, the problems of our day seem to be of biblical proportions. We seem to be on the verge of the apocalypse. It seems dire, but I’d like to tell you about something else of biblical proportions – hope.
First, I need to tell you what hope is not. Hope is not primarily a feeling. Nor is hope merely positive thinking about the future. Hope doesn’t sit back and say, “Well, I hope this gets better” and then expect someone else to solve our problems.
Biblical hope is a verb. It’s an action.
Hope is defiance. It looks at how the world is in all of its ugly problems and it insists that a better world is possible.
Hope is resilience. It doesn’t sugar coat the trauma or pain or corruption that we experience. It names those things for what they are and it claims that those things will not have the last word.
Take Moses and the Hebrew slaves who were in Egypt for generations. They didn’t feel any hope. In fact, they felt like things were hopeless. They cried out in their agony and God heard their cries. And then God worked through Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and the Hebrew people to deliver the Hebrews from the oppression of Egypt.
Generations later, when the Jewish people were conquered by the Babylonian Empire and forced into exile, they told themselves the story of Moses and the Exodus. They reminded themselves that God heard the cry of their ancestors in Egypt, which assured them that God heard their cry in exile. They reminded themselves that God worked through Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to bring liberation and they trusted that God would work through them to bring about their liberation, too.
That’s what hope is all about. It’s trusting that even in the worst circumstances, God is working in the world, and God can work through us. When the letter to the Hebrews says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” it connects faith, hope, and assurance. You can see how those concepts played out for the Jewish people. They had faith that God was with them. They hoped that God would work through them. They had assurance that God would liberate them.
Contrary to what you’ve been told, Apocalypse does not mean, “end of the world destruction.”
Apocalypse literally means, “unveiling” or “revealing.” An apocalypse is a revelation about God and about humanity.
Apocalypses, or revealings, often come through times of suffering. That’s not to glorify suffering. In and of itself, there is nothing glorious about suffering. But suffering does provide us with opportunity.
Times of suffering are great opportunities to witness an apocalyptic moment because all of the distractions are swept away. For example, when the Jewish people were conquered and forced into the Babylonian Exile, most of them had nothing. Their lives were torn apart. Their Temple, the great place of worship where God lived, was destroyed.
It was during this time of great suffering that the Jewish people received an apocalypse of hope. The revelation God gave them during this time was that God didn’t reside in a Temple. In fact, the whole earth is full of God’s glory. And more than that, God was with them during their time of exile. God hadn’t abandoned them. Rather, God was with them and working for their redemption.
As Isaiah 43 claims, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not overwhelm you.:
For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate apocalypse. He is the concrete revelation of God and of humanity. The cross was a traumatic experience for Jesus and his followers. Just like the Jews felt hopeless during the Babylonian Exile, Jesus’ followers felt hopeless during the crucifixion. They hoped that Jesus would be their Messiah, their King. And what do kings normally do?
They build up an army. They take up the sword. They kill their enemies.
But hope in violence is not the hope that Jesus gives us.
The hope that Jesus gives us is the hope of nonviolent action in the face of injustice. Because he had hope in the face of injustice, Jesus confronted the powers of injustice. He went to the Temple, which had fallen into corruption. The Temple was the religious, political, and economic center of Jesus’ culture. In the days of the prophet Jeremiah, the Temple had become a den of thieves. Jesus said the same thing about the Temple during his day. And so the place that was supposed to bring about life and prosperity only brought death and poverty. Jesus named the Temple for what it had become because Jesus had hope in something bigger.
Yes, today the world feels like it is falling apart. It is often overwhelming. But the world fell apart for the Hebrews while they were in Egypt. And the world fell apart for the Jewish people during the Babylonian Exile. And the world fell apart for Jesus and his followers.
What do you do when it feels like the world is ending? Whenever people of faith have had these apocalyptic moments, we have reminded ourselves that even if it feels like the world is ending, God hasn’t given up on us. Rather, God is with us.
God goes with us through the trauma and the tragedy, the despair and the darkness. God is radically present with us and so we can be radically present with one another as we work for a better world. That’s where we find hope for today.