18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Read the rest of today’s chapter here!)
When faith may be too hard…
It is easy to get disheartened watching the news. This is probably true at just about any point in history, but I’ve been really affected by it lately: Mitch McConnell seems hell-bent on rendering the Constitution ineffective in an effort to keep white males in power. Singed koala bears make for a pitiful sight, and then I feel guilty about feeling bad for them before anything else because, yes, there are other problems not being talked about: like the impact those same fires have had on Australia’s indigenous people (a topic totally missing from any news story that I haven’t gone out searching for). A change of residence for Harry and Meghan seems to be the top story in the news cycle over deteriorating international relations and continuing impeachment developments. Yet who am I to judge, because I can’t stop thinking about Kanye and Kim’s walk-in fridge for a family of three – another story that has zero impact on my life but bothers the hell out of me for its sheer excess.
Last post I talked about how it was Jesus’ own faith that saved us, not our faith in Jesus. When faced with such bleak realities as the ones above, it’s even easier to say “why have faith at all?” My answer, after reading today’s chapter, is that maybe faith is the wrong word. Maybe we need to have hope. Faith implies “complete trust and confidence in something.” Don’t get me wrong, having faith is good, but may not be something we are able to carry with us all the time. Even the most devout have times of doubt, which, by definition, would mean that they lose faith – even if it is temporarily. That can feel like a failure on the part of the believer and do some real mental damage.
…hope still may be achievable.
Hope, however, means “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” And it is not to be confused with optimism. As N.T. Wright explains in his book Paul, “Hope could be, and often was, a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark.” He was writing about ancient Jewish and early Christian history, but the same is true now: Hope must be a dogged and deliberate choice on our part. Wright goes on to say, “You have to practice it, like a difficult piece on the violin or a tricky shot at tennis. You practice the virtue of hope through worship and prayer, through invoking the One God, through reading and reimagining the scriptural story, and through consciously holding the unknown future within the unshakable divine promises.”
Who doesn’t wish for – hope for – a better world even in the darkest hours? Perhaps the darkest hours are when our desires are strongest, when our hope is strongest. Our faith and optimism may be gone, but our deep yearning for a better world remains. This hope is why we keep going to church, keep reading the Bible, keep praying to God.
I agree with Paul, that our righteousness (to use his word) will be attributed to us, especially when we continue to act when there seems to be no divine promise within eminent fulfillment. Abraham had faith in God before his promise to be a father of many nations. As I quoted Paul above, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations.” If we, too, act in hope – hope that we can restore the ecology of Australia and truly the whole world, hope that justice will prevail in the American political system, hope that the fate of those in need will become more important than the address of one royal couple – then we, too, will be blessed by God.
Practically, this means getting out there and acting. At least I think so. Paul may disagree – as he spends a lot of this chapter discussing how works alone cannot prove a person’s righteousness. However, I think that this criticism was more about a blind adherence to the law (whether secular or religious) to the detriment of acting out of love for your neighbor. In other words, self-betterment over community-lifting. Religion at large (and Christianity in particular) seems to have a certain propensity for navel-gazing to the point of ignoring the outside world burning down around it. Self-reflection is good, but you can think a lot of things. Getting out there and doing them? That truly reveals where your heart lies.
Let me qualify all of this by saying: start small, and don’t burn yourself out. The world’s problems are huge and cannot be solved by one person, let alone one person in one day. As a mother who suffers with a chronic condition that can cause overwhelming fatigue myself, I particularly want to reach out to those just struggling to get out of bed and make PB&J’s for their kids’ lunch: you’re doing more than enough already – I am not asking you to push yourself past your limits.
Now, that being said, everyone else look around you. Think of little ways you can act in hope. My favorite, as always, is calling your representatives. (Something I did on Tuesday, to urge Congress to do everything in it’s power to keep the US out of a war with Iran). It just takes a few minutes. If talking on the phone raises your anxiety, write them a letter or email- it’s not as immediate (since anthrax scares have become a thing letters take a few weeks to get through the security back-up, and there’s just so many emails it takes a while for staff to wade through them, too) but it still gets your voice heard. Do a change dig (you’d be surprised how much is lurking in your car/purse/nightstand/junk drawer), take it to a Coinstar, and then donate that cash to any cause you deem worthy. It’s money you weren’t missing in the first place, and can make a huge difference for an organization doing good work. My favorite local organizations that just about any community has are food pantries, the library, and the animal shelter. Most take cash donations at the door. Make extra of whatever you’re cooking for dinner, and take it to that neighbor or friend who has the sniffles. These are little ways to act in hope that require very little work on our part, but can set us – and indeed the world – on the path to larger changes.
Hope isn’t easier than faith. It is a practice, a rigorous practice, to hope. For many, this post may be all just about semantics, since faith is a rigorous practice, as well. But if you struggle with keeping your faith in times of trouble, do not worry: you are not alone, and you are not a bad person for facing that struggle. My hope is that you will keep your hope. Even if your faith falters, you can still hope for a better world. Even if your actions seem futile, you can still take those actions. To you, your righteousness will be credited, and the world you hope for, that we all hope for, will be one act of kindness closer.