Lesson 12: Christian Hope (1)

Christian HopeThe visions of the future associated with Christian hope are quite different than those of technology. Like every proclamation of the Gospel, they call believers to loving action in the present time. The two technological visions that Franz and I suggested, on the other hand, make no demands except patience. “Technological expectation” is a determinism that awaits the next stage in evolution when the mechanical replaces the humane. “Technological optimism” does not go that far, but thinks it is highly likely that the achievements of technology will inspire the attainment of humanitarian ideals in the future.

Although you would never discern it from the way the Gospel is preached in many quarters, the most appropriate response to Christian hope is, “Now that I know what God is up to, what should I be doing?” That is certainly the intention in Acts 2 when people ask the question. To repent and be baptized is simply to change your mind and begin living the new lifestyle of love practiced in Jesus’ community.

The same objective is captured in all the different presentations of Christ’s future return to establish the Kingdom. If you do not know the time, as Matthew and Mark write, you had better be living the life now. If the kingdom is already in our midst, as Luke maintains, then it is possible for believers to live now according to its values. And if “the hour is coming and now is,” as John writes, the same thing is possible and expected. All imply that those who hear the good news of the gospel should live now as much as possible according to the values of the visions.

For that matter, just as every one of our actions implies some idea of what is possible and what we hope to accomplish, so Jesus’ make promises about the future. His healing of the blind and lame foretells the day when God will make all whole. His feeding of multitudes foreshadows the time when God will make sure all have enough.

Sadly, far too much modern preaching corrupts hope into a threat about a last judgment in the distant future. The only present response is to make a Jesus’ prayer accepting God’s offer of forgiveness. This supposedly grants free admission into the Kingdom that again has nothing to do the present age. Of course, this enables critics such as Karl Marx to observe the promises of Christian hope are opiates designed to pacify the oppressed. And again of course, he is quite right when it comes to this perversion of our message.

The three visions of the future Franz and I extracted from the promises made in the faith story, the peaceable kingdom, the just society, and the beloved community, clearly offer a critique of any human society. When Matthew 25: 32–46 bases the Last Judgment on whether we have fed the hungry, welcomed the strangers, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned, and in general cared for the least of our brothers and sisters, it challenges the values by which our society lives. When Acts 2 pictures the first Christian community living like Jesus’s small band in anticipation of the coming Kingdom, it obviously calls on all believers to follow the example. The standard for living according to God’s will is giving according to your ability and taking from the common purse that results according to your needs.

Christians can argue with others on the basis of empirical evidence about specific plans and strategies for tackling social problems such as climate change and economic programs. However, the visions of the future provided by hope clearly demand our caring for the environment and sharing the wealth quite apart from all interpretations of the evidence. Christian hope inspires love just as Christian faith informs it.

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