As Christians, we sing about hope in church or perhaps in our car while singing along with the radio. As Americans, however, we have our concept of hope shaped largely by advertising and non-Christian social pressure.
What do we Americans trust in? We trust in technology. We trust experts. We trust news sources and the ever present new ‘study’ telling us what to do and what not to do. We trust in advancements in science and medicine. We buy insurance as protection of our hopes and dreams. We worry about our children and grandchildren having good jobs, careers, successes, enough money and ultimately happiness. We hope for all of these things. Yet, we find times of deep emptiness. Why? What may be happening with us in these times? In this essay, I explore one possible path to this emptiness.
Increasingly, we in America follow Europe’s path. We live without reference to God, regardless of our professions of faith. How can I say this? Look at Christian involvement in pornography, divorce, abuse and too many other ills. We Christians sadly match the culture we live in. We feel the hopelessness of our culture and yet we pursue its hope. We pursue worldly hope while singing of YHWH’s hope.
We create substitutions for the hope that comes from God. We call those substitutions education, which gives a good job; financial success which gives freedom; social status gained by many (seemingly any) paths, which creates enduring awareness of us and supposedly enduring memories of us in others; the list goes on and on. Are these things truly hope? Are our creations effective?
I wonder. What of the churched people in America? Not just the mass that self-identify as ‘Christians’ in a secular poll, but those that attend church weekly, that pray regularly, that engage in God’s work?
We churched people understand God as an individualistically focused being interacting with us about ‘me’ and ‘my life.’ This individualism is not a product of Christianity. It is clearly not an outgrowth of Judaism with its emphasis on family, tribe and nation. It is largely a product of the non-Christian/non-Judaic influences and demands in our American/Western culture. The Evangelical church and its churched people no longer penetrate our American culture. American culture penetrates the church; as the penetration of pornography, abuse, divorce and other horrors show. This ebb and flow between true Christianity and culturally modified and distorted Christianity is not new. It is the norm over the course of both Judaic and Christian history. In fact, this risk of compromise is a core element of the Exodus and formation of Israel. Read of this in the Old Testament. It speaks of genocide.
Read church history also and you will see this ebb and flow. It is at times subtle. It is at times pumped forward by troops and battles costing lives, fortunes and morality. The subtle ebb and flow also cost morality, but in a more insidious pattern. We fail to filter from our thinking and beliefs the things that form the culture around us. This is the true “culture war.” Our thinking not others plans. Our beliefs not others’ opinions. Our actions regardless of others actions. This vulnerability to the surrounding culture is the source of the genocide in the time of Israel entering the Promised Land. Think about that. Due to the risk to the Hebrews, YHWH ordered entire towns, villages, tribes and peoples to be completely wiped out. What does this suggest about YHWH’s assessment of the risk from surrounding culture? YHWH is good. YHWH is just. The cultures to be wiped out were horrifyingly evil. The risk to Israel had to be horrifyingly high. It was. Israel failed to carry out YHWH’s orders. Israel has since lost 2 temples and been wiped from the map two times. Their assimilation of other cultures played a huge role in triggering these judgements.
Today, we are lulled, distracted and fatigued by fire hose paced input from data capable cell phones, TV, emails, tweets, etc. until we do not even know that we are in trouble. We become the proverbial frog in the pot of culture. It is in this pot that ‘individualism’ warps our understanding of hope.
The Bible does not reflect God’s mindset or approach to humanity as individualistic. The Bible shows clearly how God’s perspective and actions reflects working with groups – families, tribes, ethnic groupings, synagogues, churches, nations, groups of disciples, etc. Yes, individuals play essential roles. These individuals receive promises and some even receive covenants. The promises and covenants, however, are primarily for the benefit of dozen’s, hundreds, thousands, millions, and even billions of others.
Hope is something that comes to a group. Hebrews tend to understand this. American Christians? Not so much.
Do these individuals benefit from the promises YHWH gave them? Do they derive hope from the promise each received? Some do. Some periodically do. Abram who became Abraham periodically experienced the hope of God’s promises to him. At other times, his poor thinking and strong emotion cut him off from each of his promise’s hope. The promises continued unchanged, but he did not retain his grip on the reality of the unchanging presence of the promises.
For some (or most) of these individuals with promises or covenants, the benefit as promised by YHWH never comes to fulfillment in that person’s life. This statement is heresy in American culture. America is the land of opportunity with the expectation of rapid realization of an opportunity’s benefits. How could God not reward us soon in this life for our faithfulness, for our effort? To state that individual happiness is not God’s goal is an even greater heresy. It seems to deny God’s justness. (When justice is misdefined.) If God is not just, where is our hope? This is a very warped view of justness and hope that defines these as sustained bestowal of desired outcomes. Jesus does not promise this in this life.
It is also warped, to speak and sing of Christ and God while our hope is buried deeply in the world that opposes both of them. Is it wrong to hope in the world? It is buying into a set of lies. Once bought, you own them and they own you, until they are rejected. Owning lies, protecting lies and ultimately being driven by lies will not help you. What helps you is hope based in Revealed Truth and revealed truth.
To have that hope? You must internally possess the Truth and your truth. What does it mean to possess Truth and truth? It means that what you think about, what you emote about, what you believe is internally tied to Revealed Truth and experienced truth. Internal ties to the revealed truth found in God’s Word will remodel you. Your identity will change. Internal ties to truth about you (your current and future identity) during this remodeling will frighten you, but give you hope, because when Revealed meets revealed, positive change can occur. Pieces of the new and future identity become present in today’s life. This change is not automatic. It requires choices.
It is this remodeling that is so uncomfortable. We prefer to avoid externally imposed choices. It is this level of American individualism that is a lie; the portion that is little more than aging 2-year olds with access to sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and nuclear weapons; yet shouting “I DO IT! I DO IT!” This is insanity. Yet the remodeling is also not the individualized self help that we want. The remodel is externally directed transformation taking place in the view of the community. Think about that statement.
The world’s hope bypasses this externally mandated public remodel. We think it is freedom to choose the world’s hope. It is ‘private,’ ‘mine,’ ‘my expression.’ We smear self-help freedom over YHWH’s revelation and remodeling and call it ‘spirituality.’ Yet, the worldly sellers of this hope mock the need for remodeling based on YHWH’s revelations. We align with these mockers when we buy their lies.
In accepting the avoidance of remodeling, we fail to realize how we steer ourselves, our children, and our fellow Christians down wrong paths. We think we are strong, successful individuals due to the confirmation of worldly measures and we do not recognize that we have ensured our slavery to Satan’s systems and goals. Satan has sold us ‘success’ and ‘control’ in various flavors. He will sell us more again and again.
This American individualism is a sham. We cannot bypass the need to remodel. We instead align with worldly pursuits while singing of Godly ones. The only question actually before us is whom we align with – Satan or YHWH. Whether we recognize it or not, we make multiple such choices each day. We trade in both life and death – buying and selling truth and lies – throughout each and every day. Whether we realize it or not, we engage in hupotasso. Hope requires hupotasso.
Hupotasso is the Koine Greek word generally translated as submission in the New Testament. It is a military term meaning “rank under.” So, it is a term that describes willful subordination of individual intent and authority under a larger organization’s strategy, intent, authority and culture. When we pursue the hopes of worldliness – health, wealth, happiness, prominence, control, acclaim – we rank ourselves under Satan’s strategy. We Christians extend his culture. We extend it into our business, our church, our family, our friendships and , yes, our ministries.
For the Christian, the appropriate ranking under is under Jesus, the Christ of Israel. Why mention “Jesus, the Christ of Israel?” Christian hope comes from the roots of Israel. We are grafted into Israel as a ‘wild olive branch.’ This is important. With this perspective, we understand that Christian hope is at least thousands of years old and involves millions of people. In reality, Christian hope is built on purposes agreed to before time itself existed. If the universe is about 15 billion years old (which honest astrophysicists will admit is at best an estimation, if not just speculation), then Christian hope is more than 15 billion years old. Think about that.
Think about that when hope seems absent in your spiritual life. Think about that when you are tempted to pursue worldly hope. Think about the fact that your hope, if you have accepted Christ, is the oldest thing in the universe (regardless of your preferred universe age number). It is the oldest, truest, surest thing in your and my existence. It is also promised – multiple times – by the one and only self-existent being. It is promised to us.
Us includes me, but is not solely nor preferentially focused on me. Us is us – Jew and Christian. Sing of us. Connect to us. Share the hope of us.
Perhaps the seeming silence of God at times in your life is in fact the absence of considering the truth between us. Hope is experienced in community. Silence may be more about missed human interaction than seemingly useless prayer. The seeming silence can also be from an absence of disclosure. Avoiding disclosure of painful experienced sin (whether sinning or being sinned against) stifles the option of hope in us. Sin breaks the ‘us.’ We hide. We hide from others. We hide from ourselves. We hide and say God abandoned us. To quote an awkward phrase, “This need not be so.”
The silence also comes from a different absence. The absence of knowledge of YHWH’s word guarantees there is no bulwark against the tide of worldly hope and its backlash of despair. You will not think about what you do not know. You will not know God as he is if you will not read. If you will not read and will not take internally God’s word…you will conform. You will conform to Satan’s culture, world and values. You are truly, then in the waves of worldly hope and despair. Refuse the change in your internal culture and you are treading water as if dropped from a cruise ship mid-sea. Treading water alone. Nothing in sight. A horrifying image and a worse reality.
Genocide is also horrifying. It is ruthlessness beyond our ability to endure. Yet, yet in Israel’s first culture war that is what was required. Today? After the cross? What is required? Love at a genocidal level. Active, invested love seeking to serve and save all enemies is ‘genocidal’ love. That is what “love your enemy as yourself” means. This level of love is difficult to comprehend. How do I you do this? First, you need enemies. Then you act…and then, you begin to change….as you love enemies and offer them the Kingdom.
The following passages and essays provide mechanisms to take positive action to address the experienced absence of hope. It is not necessary to be hopeless. It is necessary to derive hope, rather than manufacture it. The world literally manufactures false hope, ephemeral hope. YHWH reveals hope to the ‘us’ in this world. You are part of us. Hope comes from love that existed before time began. It began in a trio. It continues in a body and a nation. This love is far, far beyond radical…