Living with Hope
In the Apostle Peter’s first letter in the New Testament, a clear instruction is given to all Christians. They should “be ready to give a reason for the hope they have” (1 Peter 3:15), presumably to anyone in their community who asks, and presumably because those same Christians are living in a way which will cause neighbours and colleagues to ask (1 Peter 2:12).
It’s a great expectation for all followers of Jesus in all ages to have, that people around them will see the distinctiveness of their lives and then ask to know more about the basis of their faith. Most of our work in Cross-Current is concerned with nurturing Christ-like character in our workplaces, but we also want people to know how to articulate their faith in a way that is meaningful to a generation without faith.
If you scribbled down some quick reasons for the ‘hope you have’ the chances are that you would mention forgiveness of sins, eternal life, the love of God, etc. These are all true and wonderful aspects of Christian hope but they are also a million miles from the belief system of your average Western world human.
Over the last five years we have taken a survey in the streets of Berlin to try and understand the worldview of those who live and holiday in Germany’s capital as an indicator of Western thinking. We asked six questions which we think every worldview has to deal with, and it is the contrast between the majority of those answers and biblical answers which I think helps us move towards a more engaging explanation of our hope in Christ.
Basic Worldview Questions
- What is a human being?
- What is the origin of all life?
- What happens after life?
- What is the meaning/purpose of life?
- Where does evil come from?
- Is there any sort of god; if so, what sort?
With more than 500 interviews taken over a five year period, the dominant answers were:
- A human being is just another life form albeit highly evolved.
- All life comes through a general flow of evolution and chance. Nobody has yet presented a genesis of evolution.
- After life there is nothing, but people are drawn to the idea of reincarnation or ‘recycling’ depending on whether they conceive an entirely material universe.
- The meaning and purpose of life is a) to progress the species; and b) to maximise pleasure.
- Evil is hard to explain except as a natural dimension of the human fight for the survival of the fittest.
- There is no God, but there may be a universal force and one day humans may be able to control it (AKA Jedi!).
Obviously Christian beliefs are very different and they give us foundational reason for the expression and articulation of hope.
The chasm between what I think of as a BBC brand of atheism and a Christian worldview is the landscape in which the hope intrinsic to a Christian worldview should shine like a beacon of light. Here are six clear reasons for the hope we possess in our Christian worldview.
Most Common Worldview Answers
What is a human? Humanity, may or may not have been formed using the power of evolution, but the biblical message is clear that at a specific point in time God was active in a special event of making humanity what it is. There’s a lot that could be said about the Imago Dei, but one thing is clear, the Lord God of Genesis 2 is a God who can be known, a God who is personal. A clear dimension of being made in his image is to be made as persons, with personality and capable of relationship with other persons. Love is not an add on, nor is it a social convenience. It models what it means to be made in the image of our God. The world without God as creator, functioning on the principles of survival of the fittest, has little ultimate value for human relationships except for comfort, mating and friends with benefits. In a world without God life will always boil down to self… and self always turns out to be an inadequate saviour. In a world created by the Triune God, life exists within the dimensions of our relationships with him and with each other.
The origin of life. The Bible doesn’t set out to deal with any questions of evolution. It is more concerned with worldview than science, and it clearly describes the work of a God who stands outside creation and causes creation to happen. Existence is not random, which in turn means that life is not without purpose. Ultimate reality is God’s reality and therefore cannot be controlled by the events of nature, nor can it be derailed by the efforts of humans, aliens or even the devil himself!
What about after life? The creation narrative also makes it clear that humanity, whilst probably not intrinsically immortal (or there would be no need for a tree of life), was made for an eternal relationship with the living God, a relationship of love, trust, and dependence. When Jesus dies on the cross he does so in order that we can be reconciled with God - that is the great aim of salvation, a relationship with the Living God. It requires the removal of our sin, and it takes place in eternity, but the relationship is what Christian hope is all about and that relationship begins the moment the Holy Spirit speaks new life into our hearts.
The meaning of life…. Being created in a universe of purpose in the image of the creator must mean something. Of all animal life forms, human beings are unique in their capacity to exercise responsibility and care for those around them and for the planet they inhabit. Most of the time we see this care exercised under the banner of mutual self-interest, but the Christian has a motivation beyond mere survival, the Christian should care for the oceans, the landscape, the cities, the marginalised, the oppressed, the downtrodden, all with super-human resolve, because to do so is in itself an act of worship to the God who himself is defender of the weak.
So this leads to the problem of evil. And a problem it is. The British atheist philosopher Will Self (no joke) spoke about the impossibility of universal human rights, because of the constant corruption of humanity and because of the repeated ascension of those with power over those without. He said without an external policeman like God there was no hope of justice, but since there is no God there is no hope. The logic is flawless. In a universe governed only by physics, where success of one tribe is the passing on of their genes to future generations, and where wealth and power are always unevenly distributed, there is only one outcome - some will win whilst others will lose. There will always be slavery, there will always be abduction, there will always be abuse, because that’s the sort of planet we live on. BUT… But imagine. Imagine if there is a God who cares. Imagine if evil only persists for a short time. Imagine if there will be a day of reckoning when those who have harmed others financially or physically will be called to give account. That my friends is hope.
And finally is there any sort of God? A creator who is personal, who is just and fair and loving and attentive. Who made all of creation for the sake of its own beauty. Who has defeated evil for all time and withholds judgement in the hope that many more may turn to the relationship for which they were created. A God who is entirely self-sufficient without need of us, but who made us just so we could have the joy of knowing him. And who has made himself known even when our pride and infantile craving for independence makes that impossible.
Jesus the impossible God. The creator who becomes created. The Lord who becomes servant. The God who becomes human. The one who blesses becoming the object of curse. The judge condemned to death. The immortal who dies.
The Value of Hope
Hope is not an abstract, hope is the reality between our present existence and our future expectation. Hope longs for a time when Christ in his gentleness assumes his position as King whilst now we live in a world dominated by the prince of air and despair. Hope is what motivates us to do what is good in God’s sight when we live in a world of spiritual darkness.
All humans long for meaning to life. All humans long for justice. All humans long for love. A cold mechanical universe has no place for these other than as cynical social constructs. The fact of love among people without faith cries out of the need for a reality beyond purely physics. The hope of Christ is about the future, but it is also about the present, it is about allowing every step we take, every thought, action, word and deed to be influenced here and now by the reality of the kingdom of God.
Back to Peter’s exhortation to the 1st Century Christians. If we don’t know our hope then when, wonderfully, people ask us what we believe, we may struggle to say anything useful. More than that though, if we don’t know our hope in Jesus and its amazing all-of-life impact, then there’s a possibility our lives will lack the distinctiveness that might cause people to ask us what we believe in the first place.
This article is not the end. It is meant to be a start. It is meant to get you thinking and asking and praying and speaking. The task is ours, to prayerfully reimagine "Thy Kingdom Come" against the backdrop of a world which has tacitly decided God probably does not exist. Thoughts have implications. Ideas have legs. The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only good news for tomorrow, it is good news for today. A world without Christ's saving grace will be a grim place to be, by his mercy his saving grace is ever present through his Spirit and through those who are in Christ.
John Stott - the famous preacher and writer from London once said "You cannot blame meat for going rotten, that's just what meat does, but you can blame the salt for not being there." Uncle John, as we used to call him, saw that Jesus's description of his disciples as salt and light was not just a passing blessing, rather it was a statement of ontological intent. It is who we are as followers of Jesus, so it is what we must be.