The Future of Hope

By Brandon Evans:

A month ago I toured Israel. I was immersed in Christianity’s past. The biblical sites. The world-changing events. God’s activity in history was vivid.

On the trip, my group from Northern Seminary weaved through crowded streets with thousands of other travelers. We hugged and shook hands. We brushed shoulders with pilgrims from across the world who lined up to kiss holy sites, one after another with no regard for germs.

Social distancing was unthinkable then. 
But today, I sit alone in my office, contemplating Christianity’s future. Our worship gatherings are now exclusively online. Our community groups and staff meetings are being held on Zoom. The streets are empty. Businesses are closed. Hugs and handshakes are avoided. We are hyper-aware of germs.
Social distancing is the new normal.
Responses to the pandemic have varied. You might be worrying about your life. You might be afraid for your financial future. You might feel caged in your house. You might just be annoyed that bars are closed. You might be reading this with a buzzing anxiety. Or you might be reading this because you’re bored. We are each experiencing the pandemic in unique ways.
But the effect that Covid-19 has had on all of us is this—it has disrupted our outlook on the future. Nobody has any idea what daily life will be like on the other end of this. How long will it last? Am I going to survive? Will the economy recover? Will I get my job back? These are our questions. And at this point, we don’t know the answers.
And for us Christians, we wonder what will happen to our churches. Will the church be able to survive and adapt?
I say, emphatically, yes. And not only will the church survive, it will thrive.
Is this wishful thinking? No. It is hope.

Wrong, Pam. Wrong. There is a major difference between wishful thinking and hope. Why? Because wishful thinking is devoid of evidence. But our hope has a firm foundation. That foundation is God himself, and it has been validated by his activity in history.
So this is, I believe, a crucial time to look at Christianity’s past to be reminded of what its future is going to be. Why? An unstable future produces fear and chaos in the present. But we have hope in the future based on true events from the past. If the best predictor of future success is past success, then the best predictor of God’s future faithfulness is his past faithfulness. That’s what we ground our hope in.
Think about it.

We hope to inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). And the story of Israel, the historical development of a small nation chosen by God that triumphed over the power of world empires, gives us a glimpse into that future where God’s people rule the globe with him. God will not forsake his people.

We hope for the end of darkness (Rev. 22:5). And Jesus’ birth, the historical event that triumphed over the power of darkness, gives us a glimpse into that future where God’s illuminating presence will flood the universe.

We hope for global healing (Rev. 22:2). And Jesus’ miraculous healings, historical signs that triumphed over the power of disease, give us a glimpse into that future where there is no sickness, suffering, or death.

We hope for freedom from evil (Rev. 20:7-10). And Jesus’ death, the historical event where he triumphed over the power of sin, gives us a glimpse into that future where people are free from spiritual slavery.

We hope for renewed bodies (1 Cor. 15:35-49). And Jesus’ resurrection, the historical event that triumphed over the power of death, gives us a glimpse into imperishable bodies in a transformed world.

We hope for the gospel to advance. The spread of the early church, the historical movement that triumphed over the power of persecution, gives us a glimpse into a future where God’s people victoriously span every culture, nation, and language.
God has historically validated what he has promised for the future. And that is what makes our hope secure. We are not wishfully optimistic that he is going to make everything better. We are confidently hopeful that he will fulfill his promises.
This confidence enables boldness. When Paul wrote to the Romans, there were no more than a couple hundred Christians in the city of Rome. The world around was chaotic and menacing. Yet he writes this:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [including Covid-19], will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)
Why is Paul so sure? Not because he’s a wishful thinker, but because he was a witness to God’s activity in history and could be certain of an unseen future. Paul maintained this hope through imprisonments, shipwrecks, beatings, poverty, and peril because it is founded on truth.
So as Christians, we are to be hopeful. Hope enables us to press on in chaotic times because we are reminded about what will be. Doesn’t it seem strange that we can be reminded of a future that hasn’t happened yet? But this is possible because Christ has given us a glimpse into the future cosmic restoration. It is certain to happen. And it’s times like this where we need to be reminded of that.
The pandemic we are experiencing may be new, but it is not entirely unique. The church has faced rampant disease before. In the 3rd century, an epidemic was killing 5000 people a day in Rome. In the 14th century, nearly ⅓ of the global population was wiped out. And what was the church’s response? It cared for the sick and dying. It did not shrink back in fear. It brought healing to the world because of its hope. And it grew in number.
Through our current pandemic, we are going to be reminded that the church has never been a building. Or an experience. It has and always will be Christ’s people, those who have been chosen by God the Father and are being transformed by the power of his Spirit, who live with hope of God’s re-creation of the universe and who display the love of God to the world. And the church is going to thrive.
So today, rest in the hope that Christ offers. Not wishful optimism. But hope that is anchored to God’s activity in history.
And be an agent of that hope in these troubling times.