Saturday 11 November 2023

Yearning for the Messiah

And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.” 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

—Romans 15:12-13 (New International Version)

I have been thinking a lot about hope lately, not just for myself, but especially for the millions of people across the world who suffer under the iron heel of a world at war. How are they supposed to hold onto hope? Where do the survivors of such violence find the resilience to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and rebuild? For they so often do precisely that, and that is a mysterious and wondrous thing.

When I first read Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, I was struck by a particular section in which he describes a supportive relationship between the very different emotions of joy and grief. He contrasts these related emotions to the equally reinforcing pair of pride and despair (pp.103-8). Pride involves the arrogance of assuming we can destroy what we did not create, a destruction we tolerate in the name of progress. Such pride includes a naïve optimism that underestimates the brokenness, danger, and difficulty in which we are mired, not to mention our human finitude in the face of all we do not control, and simply expects things to get better without thinking too much about how or why. When such expectations are dashed, as they all too often are, pride quickly transforms into its converse, an utter despair completely devoid of any hope.

Joy and grief work differently. Together, these mark the boundaries of what Berry calls “the human estate.” When we accept the gift of our lives within these bounds, then in those all-too-frequent moments of darkness that dash our joy and conspire against our hope, we will respond with grief rather than despair. Unlike despair, grief carves a difficult path that enables us to work through our loss so that we can live to hope another day. That is what it means to hope against hope.

Of course, what I have said about holding on to hope through the work of grief is easier said than done. Indeed, against so much evidence to the contrary, scripture asks us nevertheless to trust that God is at work healing, restoring, and renewing the world. But is that really so hard a thing to believe, after all? For we see God’s redemptive work wherever we witness the possibility of redemption being made real, whenever a cup of cold water is offered to someone who thirsts. However rare and fleeting such moments may be, their very existence bears witness to the fact that any and every moment is one in which the healing love that suffuses creation might break through.

And so, we yearn for “that day” when such possibility becomes fully actual, when our redeeming God will be all, in all. Until then, we live and act in hope, gaining the joy and peace that fills us when we let go and trust in our Maker and Redeemer’s shalom way.

Shalom, friends!

Ron Kuipers