Hope ahead

The Bible’s idea of hope is a wonderful treasure of many parts. This post is the first in four I plan to write, all based on the following description.

Hope is going somewhere good, by the work of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus.

Hope looks ahead, because hope is going somewhere. Hope is a sure future.

This future includes the resurrection of all, just and unjust, for God’s final reckoning (Acts 24:14-15). This hope is our Christian inheritance, currently under guard in heaven until its unveiling (Colossians 1:5; Hebrews 6:19; 1 Peter 1:3-4). We hope for the glory of God (Romans 5:2). When all boiled down, our hope is Jesus himself (1 Timothy 1:1) – we long for him and we will see him.

There are, of course, false hopes in this world. Money is a greatly deceptive hope (Acts 16:19; 1 Timothy 6:17). Such worldly hopes will fail.

But Jesus does not fail and cannot fail. Hope, when it’s hope in the Lord, does not disappoint us. This hope is already won, already secure, already waiting.

Therefore, putting this into practice, we look ahead.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:13

 

We expect this hope, and teach ourselves about it. As we look ahead, we dedicate ourselves to learning what God has said about this hope. We will ever ask: What does our Father say?, Which things has he taught us?, What is the promise of God?

After all, angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12). We would be fools to be uninterested or uncaring! As much as God has said to us about our hope – and no more than God has spoken – let us learn, and so hope well for the guaranteed future we have in God.

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Future posts in the series:
Good hope
Hope by Jesus’ own work
Hope for sake of Jesus


 

Whose hope?

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor.’ Disciples of Jesus are armed in an odd fashion: we don’t take up weapons, but daily take up the cross.

Therefore, it makes sense that Christian hope is not for those who entertain high hopes in this world. Here’s a quotation that captures this powerfully:

The hope about which it [the Bible] speaks is valid for the hopeless and not for the optimists. It is valid for the poor and not for the rich. It is valid for the downtrodden and the insulted so that they will learn to walk uprightly, and all this as it will be in heaven, so already here on this earth. As the book of the promises of God, the Bible … points beyond itself into the future which does not yet fill our present.

(Jürgen Moltmann, quoted in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.)

 


 

On losing a child

Tender words and comfort from John Donne. Written to his sister in 1629 after the death of her son.

We do but borrow our children of God, to lend them to the world. And when I lend the world a daughter in marriage, or lend the world a son in profession, the world does not always pay me well again: my hopes are not always answered in that daughter or that son.  But of all that I lend to, the grave is my best paymaster. The grave shall restore me my child where he and I shall have but one Father, and pay me my earth when that earth shall be amber, a sweet perfume, in the nostrils of his and my Saviour.

Source.


 

God of the Old Testament

Some evidence about what the Lord (in the Old Testament) is really like.

Exodus 34:6-7

The LORD passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Psalm 86:15

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Psalm 103:8

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Psalm 145:8

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Nehemiah 9:17

They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

Jonah 4:2

And he [Jonah] prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

Joel 2:12-13

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.

The Lord:  merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, ready to forgive, relenting from disaster.

So why do I hear the frequent accusation that God ‘changed’ for the New Testament to finally learn grace and love? Perhaps we are all like Jonah: we know the goodness of God’s mercy, but dislike God’s mercy – it’s easier to flee.

 


 

Quick review: The First 48 Hours

The First 48 Hours: Spiritual Caregivers as First RespondersThe First 48 Hours: Spiritual Caregivers as First Responders by Jennifer S. Cisney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a volunteer ambulance chaplain, I was given this book by my senior chaplain (thanks Paul!), and I am very glad to have read it. In two words: highly recommended.

Before I describe why, however, there is one bugbear to note – questionable use of the Bible.

I’ve often seen that Christian books dealing with counselling or other personal helps tend to read their pastoral situations back into texts of the Bible, and thereby determine what they think a particular Bible verse means.

So here we read of disciples, ‘Struggling with direction, full of doubt and fear, they believe they are alone’ (p.20) – this sounds more like one of the authors’ crisis care situations than an accurate portrait of Matthew 28:18-20. Yes, there are elements of this, but not as much as is claimed. And so Jesus’ closing words (‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’) become comfort. There is, undoubtedly, an element of comfort. But also of challenge: the one with all authority has given a command and is with us!

This is important because the Bible word lives and is powerful. When Christians adopt powerful emotional ties to wrong interpretations, it’s an unstable help. One of the authors mentions how Hebrews 12:1 is a great comfort to him after his father’s death: believing that the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ witness us, rather than bear witness to the faithfulness of God (p.120). I could not help but think he will be painfully discomforted when someone points him to a more accurate reading of Hebrews 12.

Noting this point, though, I still highly recommend this book.

It has a clear focus on the first stages of helping people in crisis. It has helpful definitions (for example, the difference between critical event and crisis). And it is so very realistic – speaking of the first 48 hours as a first aid-type involvement. That is, first responders don’t need the advanced skills of fully-trained psychologists or psychiatrists.

With presence, sensitivity, compassion, one’s own life experience, and a few fundamental skills caregiving is possible.

The First 48 Hours names these skills, as well as illustrating them with real life examples. Perhaps most importantly, it generously encourages Christians to provide this type of crisis care.

View all my reviews


 

Advice for school scripture teachers

NSW government schools’ ‘scripture’ (more formally, Special Religious Education) is where students receive instruction in a faith given by members of that faith.

I spoke recently at a scripture teacher commissioning, and we looked at Mark 12:13-17. I suggested that it’s OK that Jesus sparks controversy and difficult questions – Jesus is more than capable of facing any challenge thrown his way. The task of Christians, I think, is simply to be publicly amazed at Jesus.

The task of Christians, I think, is simply to be publicly amazed at Jesus.

I finished with four bits of advice for being a scripture teacher in a government school. Perhaps they apply to any Christian in any position in any school. What do you think?

  • In schools, be present as a visible and available representative of Christians and churches. Representing us is a serious matter. Don’t let us down!
  • In schools, be present as a Christian in a existing vibrant community. Each school has its own real community of people and values. Be a Christian who can understand that culture, appreciate it, and contribute to it
  • In schools, be present as a speaker for Jesus Christ and about Jesus Christ. Jesus’ influence on our society is great, therefore Jesus repays serious study by everyone. Schools teach and learn – so teach clearly that people may learn. Some learners will turn to Jesus. Fantastic! We don’t, however, control people but we do control our teaching
  • In schools, be present for all: Christian and non-Christian; interested and uninterested; enquirer and mocker; student, staff or family


 

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter

The above heading is a famous quotation from Blaise Pascal. It is regularly invoked as an appeal to write better, not longer. This well-written page looks at the origin of this quotation, and similar statements over the years.

The attribution to Pascal dates to 1657.

I recently came across a very similar statement by John Donne.

Sir, you are used to my hand and, I think, have leisure to spend some time picking out sense in rags; else I had written less, and in longer time.

This is from a letter to Sir Henry Goodyer, in October 1622. (Source.)

I don’t know how or when this letter became public, so do not claim Donne influenced Pascal. But it’s interesting that Donne was earlier.

 


 

Don’t do good

If you find something good to do, please do not do it. It could be an awful mistake.

I’ll give you an example: would you stand up to protect someone’s privacy, especially their medical privacy? I certainly consider medical privacy a good thing!

But try out this report:

Dr Mourik said he would not invite the protesters [to a forum] because “they are not interested in women’s privacy”.

“They believe protection of the baby’s life is worth invading people’s privacy over,” he said.

Mourik wants to move protesters away from the Albury clinic that completes abortions, to protect privacy. Those protesters, without breaking any law, believe something as petty as protection of the baby’s life. How foolish!

If we automatically move to protect privacy we might thereby support killing babies in the womb. To support one good can destroy another good. Which one would you choose?

There are plenty of cases when good things compete, and only one good can succeed. Freedom is good, but we judge some crimes require imprisonment. Opioid drugs are powerfully helpful, but we agree that their distribution needs strong restriction. Speech creates culture, but we know the need for anti-libel laws. Good versus good, and the best should prevail.

There’s a second place in which good is a bad idea, and this is much more common. We shouldn’t do good when we can do better. This is not when good competes, but when goods compare.

For example, you find two charities working in a famine zone, but which do you choose? If their main difference is how much goes on administration and advertising (25% versus 10%), I’d say go for the latter. They’re both good, and they don’t cancel one another out, but one is better.

Comparison and choice of the better seems to be behind Paul not taking Mark on mission with him (Acts 15:38). The choice of what is best time management is every Christians’ duty (Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5). And doing the better thing, even when painful, is fatherly – for both human and divine parents (Hebrews 12:10).

Tragically, so many fellow citizens frantically chase a good that is far from the best. And Christians are as affected as any other group!

Instead of peace with God and love for neighbour we choose: comfortable housing, a career path, educational or sporting ‘success’ as our kids’ priority, travel, and all the temporary things of this world.

So here’s my advice: When you find a good, do not do it, but consider instead what is best. Make best use of the time, because the days are evil.


 

 

Quick review: Catch-22

Catch-22Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you like a book that’s listed as a classic, you’re simply following the crowd. But if you dislike the listed classic, you’ve got no taste. Catch-22.

If you enjoy the writing in a novel that narrates awful events, and even looks somewhat amoral, that must make you unfeeling. But if you dismiss a novel that refuses to hide the grizzly nature of life, you’re still unfeeling. Catch-22.

I wanted to read Catch-22 for some time, because it’s a classic. And reading it created my own cases of Catch-22 – the ‘catch’ that is impossible to escape, no matter what you do.

Here are two examples of my catches: the humour is enjoyably off the wall-but I kept wondering if black humour is merely stylish cynicism; there’s great compassion for this world of suffering-but I hated the way women (in particular) were treated in the book.

Catch-22 is so well known that there’s no point me recounting its content or themes, you can find great summaries on the web. So here’s my take on the whole theme of the book: this life is a crazy yet hopeful struggle.

The crazy struggle is everywhere, especially war: horrible deaths, innocent suffering, racketeering, apathy, selfishness, … And Heller captures all this and more.

It’s the hope in Catch-22 that surprised me. The lead character, Yossarian, has most of his friends die. One death in particular is referred to again and again, with increasing detail until we read the whole awful story. I expected a bleak conclusion. Yet Catch-22 ends with the excitement of an unexpected survivor, and a crazy plan for Yossarian to survive. (And in this edition, Heller’s 1994 preface confesses that he could never kill Yossarian.)

How odd that the novel of honest hopelessness cannot give up on hope. Paradox-22, anyone? The persistence of hope even when people don’t know why: people will always need the hope-filled news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.

View all my reviews


 

Science causes natural theology

In the mid seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes identified that science does not undermine theology. Rather, science tends towards (problematic) natural theology.

Curiosity, or love of the knowledge of causes, draws a man from consultation of the effect, to seek the cause; and again, the cause of that cause; till of necessity he must come to this thought at last, that there is some cause, whereof there is no former cause, but is eternall; which is it men call God. So that it is impossible to make any profound enquiry into naturall causes, without being enclined thereby to believe there is one God Eternall; though they cannot have any Idea of him in their mind, answerable to his nature.

From Leviathon, Chapter XI.