I don’t make New Year resolutions. But, each and every year, I do try to think about some values, or virtues, that I hope will animate my life over the coming twelve months. I then write a prayer, or select a bible verse or two, which I hope will deepen my understanding of my guiding virtue over the coming twelve months. What I end up doing is a form of extended Lectio Divina. In 2017 my guiding virtues were trust, humility, service and gratitude. The prayer I wrote for myself was:
‘Loving God, help me today to drink from the great well of trust that I may serve you with humility and gratitude all the days of my life.’
One of my virtues for 2018 is hope. Hope is, of course, one of the three ‘theological virtues,’ (1 Corinthians 13, 13). I have felt strongly led to deepen my life in hope over the course of Advent and Christmas. So what is this hope that I am talking of? The Thematic Bible (one of my favorite resources) defines hope as:
‘A confident expectation for the future, describing both the act of hoping and the object hoped for. When grounded in God, hope provides the motivation to live the Christian life, even in the face of trouble.’
I guess that the difference between a wish and a hope, at least in Christian terms, is one of grounding. Whereas a wish, however longingly felt, is groundless, hope is grounded in God. Hope in other words is part of a larger story, the author of which is God, the Alpha and Omega. It is belief and trust in God that provides the grounds for hope.
Hope is in many ways the antidote to despair. We need hope when all seems bleak, when life seems cruel and, even unfair. We need hope when the record player of our minds is stuck and all we hear time and again is a voice uttering messages of woe. We need hope when we feel ganged upon and experience a lack of autonomy and control. We need hope when we are, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘trespassed against.’ We need hope when innocence is removed and the potential for bitterness, anger and hatred sown. We need hope when lethargy and passivity take over and motivation disappears. Hope, it seems, is not only a virtue; it is also divine and supernatural energy.
It is easy to see the world as hopeless. So many people live in total poverty and fear. Great swathes of the world’s population live under the rule of injustice and tyranny, trespassed against, knowing no peace. So many families (including my own) live with the ongoing reality of illness, pain and disability. So many people, myself included, are crying out to God in pain and despair and wondering how much longer will they have to wait for justice, peace and healing. Justice, peace and healing are, I suspect, the expectations we long for, and work for, in living hopeful lives.
The Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 31, 15-17 ) and the collect for the Festival of the Holy Innocents make the relationship between peace, justice, healing (or at least restoration) and hope clear. A verse from the O.T. reading is given at the end of this article whilst the collect petitions God to ‘frustrate all evil designs and establish your reign of justice and peace.’
The Church itself often feels a place of despair. A real lack of peace exists between various groups within the church. This is sad because, presumably, the church should be the one institution (or body) that animates and brings into being radical and properly grounded hope? So here are a couple of questions for 2018:
‘What would a confident and hopeful church look like; how would a confident and hopeful church behave?’
I don’t know the answer to these questions but I do know that a church that doesn’t anticipate and work towards a better more just and peaceful future would be an anemic, shallow and, hopeless church.
Maybe one of the reasons that I feel called on to reflect on hope over the next twelve months is my inability to answer my own questions for, in reality, I don’t as yet know what a confident and hopeful Andrew looks like, let alone how and a confident and hopeful Andrew behaves. In 2018 I hope to discover what it means to live a hope-filled life. I hope to do so by reflecting on the verses below which I believe have been graced to me by the ground of all hope, God:
‘Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country,’ (Jeremiah 31, 16-17).
‘But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint,’ (Isaiah 40, 31).
May I wish you all a hope-filled 2018.