The Essence of Hope

Human beings need hope to thrive. There is a sense of “something more” about the human experience. We are not accustomed to standing still. In the absence of hope, even a comfortable person becomes restless.

Defining the hope in our lives is essential. What is it in our future that draws us forward, keeps us focused and orders our expectations? Toward what end do we move? The nature of the hope set before us determines the ways in which we grow and change.

The hope that Jesus will return to gather His saints and restore His good creation is an essential component of Christianity. (For some, who live in otherwise hopeless situations, it is the singular hope.) There is unfinished business here in our world. We need to see and touch our Leader once again. There is no date set for the Lord’s arrival, nor can we be certain that the coming again of the Lord will occur before our own spirits are called home. But the hope of his coming motivates us to order our lives in ways that will be pleasing to him when he arrives.

I do not know how we will manage for a sense of “something more” when the Lord comes again. Perhaps the nature of humankind will shift to a perfected state where hope is no longer an imperative. Perhaps there are regions beyond that we will explore that we are not yet able to glimpse. It is not important to me right now that I see beyond this Blessed Hope that draws me toward a life of service to and adoration of Christ. For the moment, that is all the hope I need. To touch the ONE who has given me life and has given purpose to the life I now live, is the essence of hope for me.

“But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

Romans 8:24-25

Aphilagathos

I live in the age of Aphilagathos1,

I see it. I hear it. I feel it. I know.

It hates what is good and it loves what is evil,

This demon of our age, Consumer of Souls.

It feeds on the bodies of innocent children.

Plucked out of their mothers before their first breath

And as it consumes them, it breathes out a venom

That spreads on the wind and infects all our lives

It turns us toward madness, and bids us to war –

To break and to burn and to scatter and ruin.

We wonder about, befouling and looting

Until we have scrubbed off God’s image in us.

We look nothing like Him, our Creator God.

We’re twisted and sullied and withered and vile.

And Aphilagathos looks up to Heaven

And bellows out proudly, “I’ve taken them now!”

I can almost hear it, the Father’s whisper

Enough of this foolishness. Go! Bring them home.

That is when I see them – the grieving faithful

The ones crying heavenward, “Oh, Lord, how long?”

I’m standing among them. I feel all their pain.

Their pure hearts are breaking as Earth is unmade.

A dreadful apocalypse yawns before me.

As I step into it, my spirit takes flight.

When evil is vanquished, and peace is restored

Aphilagathos will plague us no more.

An original poem by RuthAnne G. Henley, Friday, 13 May 2022

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Avoid such men as these.

2 Timothy 3:1-5, New American Standard Bible 1995

1 – From the Greek – a hater of good describing someone who is hostile to the things of God – i.e. an active opponent (enemy) of God’s kingdom (good).)

Bear the mark of love.

You Know Better

Some of us are old enough to remember the days when teachers stepped out of the classroom to confer with a colleague, the principal, or a concerned parent, leaving a student in charge of monitoring the class. There was no need for a lengthy set of instructions for the appointed monitor. The teacher just looked over his or her shoulder and issued the mandate, “Jamie, take names.”

Most of us hated taking names. Many of us dreaded having our names taken. The urge to socialize during this unexpected break from our routine was strong, and whether we spent the time reviewing, reading, or misbehaving depended on the attitude of the empowered student. Some smiled impishly, as bent on trouble as the rest of us. (Those were sweet times.) Others sat vigilant, pencils poised, ready to queue up all offenders for flogging. (Those times were not so sweet.)

I remember being left in charge. I tended to be gracious. I would make eye contact with classmates who were begging to be ratted out and tap my pencil on the blue-lined paper, doing my best to appear menacing. On a few occasions, I turned in a few names because I could not manage to persuade the worst offenders to keep their clamor below the level of an uproar. A teacher who could hear the tumult while standing in the hallway beyond the closed door would not – could not – accept a blank sheet of paper from an appointed monitor.

My moments as a monitor are best summed up in a frequently misused scripture snippet: “Judge not that ye be not judged.”

When I think of the mindset of the minor prophets, I am reminded of taking names. They were called to bear witness and issue warnings. It was not an easy calling. It did not usually lead to popularity.

The worst of it for them was the fact that the God to whom they would give account already knew who was following directions and who was busy making mischief. They issued warning after warning, but most of the time nobody listened. As I write that line, I hear a stanza from Don McLean’s tender song Vincent (Starry, Starry Night):

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…

The people did not listen to the prophets’ messages. The truth is, we are still not listening. That’s when the song fades from my internal dialog, to be replaced by the voice of my dear old Granny Gobble. She is saying, as she often did, “Them that won’t listen got to feel.”

I am making virtual eye contact with you. I am tapping my pencil on blue-lined paper. We both know God already knows your name, and what you’re up to. You know better. Fix this while it’s fixable.

Hear now the words of the Prophet Zephaniah:

Stand in silence in the presence of the Sovereign Lord,
    for the awesome day of the Lord’s judgment is near.
The Lord has prepared his people for a great slaughter
    and has chosen their executioners.
“On that day of judgment,”
    says the Lord,
“I will punish the leaders and princes of Judah
    and all those following pagan customs.
Yes, I will punish those who participate in pagan worship ceremonies,
    and those who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.

“On that day,” says the Lord,
    “a cry of alarm will come from the Fish Gate
and echo throughout the New Quarter of the city.
    And a great crash will sound from the hills.
Wail in sorrow, all you who live in the market area,
    for all the merchants and traders will be destroyed.

“I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem’s darkest corners
    to punish those who sit complacent in their sins.
They think the Lord will do nothing to them,
    either good or bad.
So their property will be plundered,
    their homes will be ransacked.
They will build new homes
    but never live in them.
They will plant vineyards
    but never drink wine from them.

Zephaniah 1:7-13, New Living Translation
STARRY NIGHT BY VINCENT VAN GOGH, copy used for illustration only, not for commercial ourposes

We Move On

Sometimes life hands us just about as much as we can bear. Situations test us to the limits of our resources. In fact, we are sometimes pushed farther than we imagined we were able to go. We are almost crushed beyond repair. Almost, but not quite. Even as we tell ourselves there is no reason to struggle any more, we rock back on our heels and feel solid ground under our feet. To our own amazement, we stand up, and we move on.

Despite our lack of faith in our own capacity for resilience, we bounce back. Even when our hearts have entertained the thought of surrender, we resist. Having explored the depth of our resolve, we find another ounce of courage and a small scrap of hope – and we stand up, and we move on.

This is one of the most fascinating aspects of human behavior. We exhaust one well of inspiration and find a slender forceful stream running under it. Life may bruise and bloody us, but we stand up, and we move on.

In the quest for holiness, we plough through our own imperfections, always running against the grain. We are a fallen creation. There is a brokenness about us that always seems to be mending, but never truly heals. Going on to perfection in love is a deeply frustrating pursuit. Just when we think we see the final landmark on the horizon, we top the hill to find yet another valley stretching between us and our goal. The sound of our own roar of disappointment is deafening. But we stand up, and we move on.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Speechless

I am seldom at a loss for words.

This morning, I am remembering a time when my life was full of anxiety and frustration. I journaled, “We have had a series of unfortunate events.” I was homesick at the time, missing my friends and familiar surroundings. I could not decide whether to miss Virginia or Florida, so I alternated between the two.

By then, I had very few friends in Virginia, since I had never bonded with my classmates at school, and my church friends had mostly done as I had, relocating after college or marriage took them out of their families of origin. I did miss my home church there. I missed the familiar comfort of the library, and the handful of stores I had frequented. Mostly, I missed my little house, the quiet roads around it, and the silence of the woods.

When my heart went to Florida, I missed my little cohort. I had formed some strong friendships there among those headed for pastoral ministry, missions’ appointments, and instructors’ positions at Christian schools. I looked back longingly at sitting around the table in Graves Center, solving the world’s problems and airing our dreams for the future. I also missed my dorm room, the quiet little prayer room, and the sunny spot at the center of the complex where I sometimes dried my laundry, and occasionally sunbathed.

At the time of the letter, my body was living just outside the city of Minot, North Dakota. (My mind was often elsewhere.) Flooding had threatened our home, and we accepted the hospitality of a family who lived on base at the direction of my then-husband’s commanding officer. I was pregnant with my first child at that time. The family that hosted us seemed uncomfortable with my condition, and the wife, who was the mother of two, was critical of my dietary choices. She insisted that I have a little wine at bedtime to ease my restlessness. When I declined, she was offended, and I was uncomfortable in her presence for the duration of the stay.

My husband’s work schedule left me alone twenty-four hours a day three or four days out of seven. In my home, I was surrounded by recently acquired friends, but on base, I was surrounded by strangers. My art supplies, books, and guitar were left behind in the evacuation. I was out of my comfort zone in so many directions.

That was one of many times I have felt completely out of my element, and deeply, keenly sad. It is a helpless feeling, that genre of discordance with one’s surroundings. To have no point of connection, no circle of friends, and no sense of purpose in the community around me was – always is – disconcerting. We all feel that way from time to time.

Over the past couple of years, the world around us has changed radically. Most of those changes have been unpleasant, keeping us unsettled, often isolated, and nervous. Costs have soared, many things are unavailable or on back-order, and businesses have suffered. Everything feels disjointed. Life has lost its flow. Even our language has shifted. Just when we have made peace with one set of changes, a new set rolls in. While I admit to having lost some of my youthful elasticity, even young folks are struggling to keep pace.

With a combination of financial pressures, social disruption, and conflicted communication, we are simply living in hard times. Is this news to anyone? Many warn that things will get worse before they get better. I hear the predictions and stand speechless. Looking around at the rampant, arrogant evil among us, I cannot bring myself to ask God “Why?” Indeed, I marvel at God’s grace and restraint in the face of our flagrant rebellion.

So, with the prophet, I begin to pray:

You, O Lord, rule forever;
Your throne is from generation to generation.
Why do You forget us forever?
Why do You forsake us so long?
Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored;
Renew our days as of old,
Unless You have utterly rejected us
And are exceedingly angry with us.

Lamentations 5:19-22, New American Standard Bible 1995