- Is Our Fear Of Death Stopping Us From Really Being Able To Live? (1)
- How can we find hope in a fearful world? (2)
- How can we find equality in an unfair world? (3)
‘I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.’
So said Greta Thunberg, the climate activist, in a speech that she gave at the World Economic Forum. In some ways they sum up the way that many people try to motivate others. We are driven by a sense of fear.
In fact, one of the marks of our contemporary culture seems to be a sense of fear about the future. On many of the hot button issues of the last few years, the debates around them have been driven by it. Whether it is the environmental crisis, the American election or Brexit, there has been a great deal of fear shown by people on all sides of the debate.
During the Brexit referendum, those who wanted to leave spoke of their fear of an increasingly autocratic bureaucracy in Brussels and the threat of uncapped immigration. Those who wanted to stay often spoke of their fear of the financial disaster and political instability if we left. In the American election, many Democrats and Republicans prophesied disaster if the opposition were to take power. Greta Thunberg has warned of complete annihilation if the environmental crisis isn’t tackled. Others warn that this is all some cover for a global conspiracy.
It would be naïve to respond by saying that such things could never happen. 2020 has taught us that bad things can happen. Although somewhat ironically, a global pandemic was not something that many of us were actually fearful about before it happened! Yet even our response to Covid-19 has been divided by competing fears of the future. Some were dominated by fears of the virus itself and the real threat to our own health and the health service as a whole. Others seemed more concerned about the economic damage that our response would have on the fabric of society.
In response to all these concerns, Christianity doesn’t offer naïve optimism. In fact, one of the marks of Christianity is that it expresses concerns that cross traditional political divides. Being a Christian makes me concerned about issues on both the political left and the political right.
What is our hope?
Yet while Christianity doesn’t offer optimism, it does offer hope. In fact, according to the Bible, it is hope that should mark Christians out as different.
Writing to a group of Christians who had suffered great turmoil in their lives, the Apostle Peter wrote:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Pet. 3:15).
Peter assumes that Christians would exhibit hope in such a way that others would notice and ask them about it. I remember being invited to dinner by a Christian couple in my church. They had also invited their nephew, who was a similar age to myself. He had many questions about the Christian faith and we spent the evening discussing them. At the end of the evening, I asked him, ‘How did you become so interested in these things?’ I’ll never forget his response.
A few weeks ago my colleague at work died of cancer. She left behind her husband and a young family. But I saw the way she faced death with hope because she was a Christian. I know that it was real. I just want to know what it is.
So, what is the hope that we have? Peter writes:
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13).
The Christian hope is not some disembodied existence – floating on a cloud, wearing a white nightie, playing a harp and going to eternal choir practice! The Bible speaks of the renewal of this creation and the transformation of everything. It is this world made new and everything that spoils it taken away. The last book of the Bible tells us what won’t be there – no tears, no pain, no funerals.
Is this too good to be true?
How do we know this hope is real and not some psychological crutch? Do people believe this just because they want it to be true?
That is certainly the suggestion of the atheist, Ricky Gervais, in his film The Invention of Lying. In it he implies that Heaven is nothing more than a lie invented to help people avoid the harsh reality of death. However, Peter shows us what our hope is based on. He writes:
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet. 1:3).
The Christian hope in the future is based on an event in the past, the resurrection of Jesus. Whilst we cannot verify an event that has not yet taken place, we can look back at the historical evidence for one that already has. Despite our culture’s cynicism about such miraculous claims, if we take time to investigate the evidence, we will find it to be compelling. As one historian noted, ‘There is a resurrection-sized hole in history.’ Indeed, it is very difficult to explain the explosive, world-changing, growth of the Christian movement if the story of Jesus had ended at the cross. If you aren’t convinced you need to check it out.
Is this just pie in the sky?
Is this talk of hope merely a way of burying our heads in the sand and avoiding the sad reality of our world? Not at all! This hope in the future gives us real joy today. Peter writes:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials (1 Pet. 1:8).
Just as the knowledge of an upcoming holiday gives us joy even in the drudgery of a difficult day at work, so the hope that Jesus brings gives us real joy in the painful experiences of life here and now.
Not only that, but hope is a far more effective motivator than fear when it comes to making a difference in our world. Greta Thunberg says that she wants us to panic and then to act but as at least one psychologist has subsequently pointed out – panic is not a good basis for decision making or effective action. Indeed panic can lead to ill-thought through knee-jerk reactions because ‘something must be done’. In other cases, panic leads to catastrophising and despair which paralyses us and stops us from acting. Hope, on the other hand, enables us to act clearly and boldly.
A great example of this was when Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. In wanting to challenge institutionalised racism in America he did so by telling the world that he had a dream. That dream was grounded in the biblical hope of the future.
Christianity is characterised by hope. This hope is not too good to be true but rather it is good because it is true. Nor is it simply pie in the sky. It gives us great joy in the middle of great turmoil and the strongest motivation to act now for the good of our world.
Next in this series: How can we find equality in an unfair world? »