Hope in Uncertain Times
In a recent sermon, I shared how the Bible can be seen as a manual for hope. We took a short walk through the Hebrew Scriptures, and saw how they abound with hope. If ever a people have endured one extreme circumstance after another it has been our Jewish forebears. When they weren’t slaves of Egyptians they were dominated by Assyrians, held captive by the Babylonians, controlled by the Persians, and though they were treated fairly well under the Greeks and later the Romans, rarely were they regarded as equals. And since the death of Jesus, they have been maltreated as a people more often than not, in the last centuries suffering persecutions and pogroms and of course, genocide under Hitler’s regime.
Yet despite such oppression, the Jews have endured. Against overwhelming odds they have retained their identity through their traditions and faith. Their intense devotion to God. Faith in the God who is involved in the affairs of the world. A participatory God. A compassionate God. Not a divine but disinterested bystander. The God who, in Moses’ day, “heard the cries of the people” held captive in Egypt, and delivered them from their oppression. “I know their sufferings,” God declared (Ex. 3:7, NRSV). In all their affliction, we read, God was afflicted. So the message, it seems to me, is twofold: God is with us and God cares. God will see us through and, if we have eyes to see, we will see God through the work of our hands and the work people are doing for the common good. We discover that God is working in everyone.
For those who are overwhelmed and paralyzed with fright, God is there with comfort. For our medical providers, God is there with courage. For those who shop only for themselves or those in need without hoarding, God with there with generosity. For those who see an opening through this challenge for systematic change, God is alongside them with a prophetic voice. And God is in all the space between us pulling us together as we support each other through this.
We are in for some hard weeks, or maybe months ahead. There will be a time each of us is tired or grief-stricken, frustrated or scared. When we tire, that is when our connections to those around us will keep us going – the letters and notes and phone calls. So think about the people you know, how we can hold each other together.
Like the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament abounds with hope. I think of Paul, who always had a word of encouragement to offer, despite his circumstances – why it seems when he wasn’t ill, he was shipwrecked or writing from prison. Our God will see us through, he wrote, time and again. And of course, the Resurrection, which we will celebrate remotely this year – when God has the last word over death and evil itself. As Paul writes, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus, neither life, nor death, angels or principalities, nor heights nor depths, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God.”
God is with us. God cares. Thanks be to God!