True Hope in a Dismal World

We live in a world of COVID exhaustion, political turmoil, and cultural upheaval. Many people over the past year have let hope slip. They view all of these problems and descend into despair. But for Christians, it’s not supposed to be that way. Of all people, we should be the people of hope.

Yes, that can be cliched. It’s often easy to throw out verbal assurances that have little meaning. As we’re reminded in the book of James,

What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it does not result in action, is dead.

James 2:14-17

We must back up our words with deeds, and with faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit leading us, we can do so. That’s what gives us hope in a rather dismal world.

C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, has a chapter on the Christian’s concept of hope. It’s not what the world usually refers to as hope; it has a different context. Hope, says Lewis, is a theological virtue. When we look forward to eternity, we are not retreating into “a form of escapism or wishful thinking”; rather, thinking of the eternal world is “one of the things a Christian is meant to do,” he asserts.

We don’t become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good (a phrase that ought to be expunged from our vocabulary). Lewis explains that when we have a heavenly hope, we don’t want “to leave the present world as it is.” He then offers a history lesson to show “that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” As examples, he points to the apostles “who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade.” They left their mark, he insists, “precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.”

He then notes what has happened all too often in our day.

It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.

It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air.

In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.

People try to have hope for the future by aiming at saving civilization in various ways: ending racism; stopping abortion; upholding a constitutional order for the sake of societal stability. All are worthy endeavors. Yet if we carry out these endeavors on a purely human plane, thinking that a nation, a culture, or even a long life itself is the ultimate goal, we will be disappointed in the end. We were made for eternity, and only when we focus on that will we understand true hope.