A Hope on Both Sides of the Grave

… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…
1 Peter 3:15-16

The modern mind is impatient. Furiously so.

We live at a frenetic pace in today’s world – a thing James Gleick calls “hurry sickness” in his book, Faster.  And in this world with a glut of information and a deficit of time, we often hurry without purpose, going nowhere faster than ever before. We take in more data in an hour than we can process in a week.

This acceleration of tempo has infiltrated the church and affected our views on the promises of God. Too many of us have become consumers of the 5-minute devotional or the single-verse meme, taking nibbles on the Bread of Life here and there throughout our week and hoping it will somehow counteract the vast measures of cultural junk food we absorb. Too often, we expect microwave answers to slow-cooker problems.

When I was an atheist, I would point to some calamity or cancer or sexual abuse as evidence that Christianity “didn’t work.” I believed if there was such a thing as a loving God, He wouldn’t allow such things.  In my ignorance, I supposed God existed for our earthly good – kind of like a jolly old man giving out candy to children without concern for their long-term nutrition.

And if our entire existence were summed up in the eighty-odd years of mortality, this would be a just argument. As Paul once wrote, if Christ was not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.

So many people, believers and unbelievers alike, struggle with the fact of continued suffering and death. If we believe God’s promises, why do we not always see them borne out? Why, when we pray for healing, do we see even more sickness? Where is this plan to prosper and not to harm us we see in memes on social media?

The answer is simple. A happy, healthy life on earth is not the goal.

Healing is great, but sometimes pain drives us closer to God in areas which we would never voluntarily venture. Sometimes it takes a great evil done to us to see the monstrous evil within our own hearts. Hardship can remind us of the fleeting nature of possessions and lay bare the illusion of control.

In my walk with the Lord, I’ve asked such questions. In the dark of my own inner night, I’ve wrestled with God in a desperation to understand painful experiences. And through the struggle, He revealed my impatience to me.

Take Abraham…

Genesis 15 tells of Abraham, a man to whom God made a sweeping double promise: he would possess a huge swath of land and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. In actuality, the first glimpse of this promise was given to Abraham at age 75, as Genesis 12:2-4 tells us. It was reiterated in chapter 15 and revisited in chapter 17 when our man was 99 – a lapse of 24 years since the original promise of “a great nation” from his line.

Somewhere in those decades, Abraham made a choice to believe God despite his childless state.

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

Of course, if we read on in Genesis, we find one part of the promise fulfilled in his son, Isaac – a miraculous birth since his wife was well past her child-bearing years. Still, Abraham died owning naught but the tomb his wife, Sarah, and eventually he, himself, were buried in.

Did God fail to keep His promise?  Our impatience tempts us to reply, “Yes.”

But the truth is, God never backs out on His promises. It’s just that too often we assume the promises are meant for us right now.

We disdain posterity, preferring miraculous healing instead of patient and faithful endurance. We crave a bold delivery from difficulty instead of the testimony of trust in the midst of trial.

Though Abraham did not live to see it, his descendants did eventually possess the promised land – at least until they fell into disobedience. And that part was their choice, not God’s plan.

The core of the matter, the point of real hope is this: If I feel God has not kept a promise in my time, it’s a sign I need to broaden my scope.

God’s promises are not about me living a cushy existence with my every whim granted. It doesn’t mean I won’t experience suffering, hardship, and loss.

What it does mean is that I will experience them with purpose. And whether I like it or not, that purpose is His glory. His, not mine.

The promise I trust in – my hope – is despite the grave. It is not in health or wealth or politics or gain. It is in God Himself. Eternity in the presence of His glory. Pleasures forevermore at His right hand.  It is also hope for now – in His power made evident by my constant weakness.

In Christ, both life and death are redeemed, for to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Friend, if you find yourself hopeless, take time from the press of urgency to wrestle with Him.

How do you find hope in the midst of hardship? Feel free to share!