Hopeful Vision

There are at least two sorts of hopeless Christians these days.

One sort despairs as they survey America's history of abuse of blacks, the evils and hypocrisies of slavery and Jim Crow, the terror of lynchings and bombings and the Klan, the church's appalling racist theology. Will America ever find racial peace or racial justice? It seems a remote possibility.

Another sort despairs as they survey the upheavals of the past few months. They hear the hoofbeats of the four horsemen and anticipate seeing Jesus very soon. They wouldn't see themselves as hopeless but hopeful, because they hope for Jesus to whisk them away. As far as this world goes, though, it looks pretty grim.

I oversimplify, of course. But these tendencies really exist. And they end in the same place.

Hopeless people lack vision. If you think this world is about to go down the tubes, there's little point in laying foundations and setting cornerstones of future buildings. If you think America's racial injustices are intractable, there doesn't seem much point in trying to redress them.

Both these tendencies need a dose of the gospel, the good news of the victory of God.

Jesus died, rose, and ascended to triumph over sin and death. One of the first effects of sin was to turn man against woman, brother against brother. Jesus came to heal fissures in the human race.

God promised Abraham that He would bless the nations through Abraham's seed, and backed up the promise with an oath in His own name. It's a promise to unify post-Babelic humanity under the blessing of Yahweh.

To put it provocatively: God will not be God unless He unites divided peoples and races. He will not be God unless He gathers a people from every tribe and tongue and nation.

The Father is determined to reconcile nations and races as one family in His Son by His Spirit, and He will do it. Once He's made up His mind, who's going to stop Him?

We don't have to wait till Jesus' final coming to see that happen. Jesus the branch from the stump of Jesse, anointed with the Spirit to bring justice, until wolves live with lambs, lions and oxen graze together, and none hurts or destroys in God's holy mountain (Isaiah 11:1-9).

Jesus has established Zion as chief of the mountains. As His Torah goes out, it draws the nations, who beat their swords to plows and spears to pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:1-4).

They need a dose of the biblical truth that God builds and dismantles worlds, that He both plants and uproots. They need to see that demolition of an old world leads, over centuries, to the erection of a new.

Placing hope in God doesn't give us an excuse for indifference or lethargy. Quite the contrary. Because we hope in God, we know our labors are not in vain in the Lord.

Placing hope in God doesn't mean things come easy. Suffering and self-sacrifice are always the way to restoration, with racial divisions as with everything else.

As Matthew Loftus has written, racism is a "principality and power" in the Pauline sense, a demonic power that comes out only by much prayer, fasting, and painful repentance.

Placing hope in God isn't magic, but it renews our vision. It opens up new, distant horizons. It enables us to imagine a future beyond the present turmoil. It's the kind of hope that inspired Augustine to see the city of God, still on pilgrimage, after the Roman city was in ruins.

Hope motivates us to pray and act, building a world that more closely anticipates the peace and justice of the new Jerusalem.

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