It isn’t news to say that right now there are a lot of people who are offering solutions for everything wrong with the world. Christians, of course, have their own prescriptions–what needs to change, what needs to happen. And, if you haven’t noticed, those solutions (which all involve Jesus fixing everything, and in the mean time, everyone learning to follow him and getting on board with his plan) aren’t very in style these days.
With so much at stake, with so many people so worried about the direction things are headed, there’s a lot of pressure on followers of Jesus to change their outlook, and get on board with everyone else’s plans. But leaving Jesus out and ignoring his promises can’t be a good option. I’ve been thinking about all of this, and so, I was glad to run into this passage from Thomas Oden’s Classic Christianity which explores the reason why:
“The Gospel Transcends Despair Over the Human Future”
Why not limit our imperfect energies to political change and economic development? Too often, in despair, the modern world has reduced the vision of the human future to political regulation or economic interest or social planning or ecological anguish.
Even supposing that a wonderful future society might actually emerge from coordinated political effort, what could incontestably guarantee its permanence? Would the best conceivable society last for more than a generation? Wouldn’t the proneness to sin find a way to undermine it? Suppose that such a utopian society, if now impossible, is even achieved in a fourth or fifth millennium—that gives little comfort to those who have already suffered in previous millennia. If the payoff of future hope is a this-worldly society yet to come for others, how does this hope impinge morally upon our present suffering and sacrifice to help it come about? Throughout such probing, classic Christian teaching remains realistic about the capacity of humanity for sin such as might destroy the planet. Yet that realism is set in the context of hope that God’s purpose will be fulfilled even under the worst scenarios of human folly. The worst modern fantasies are hardly more horrible than those of ancient apocalyptic imagination.
Christian teaching about the future does not have to do merely with human wish projections, philosophical speculations, rational arguments, or humanistic hopes. Rather it speaks of a future that has already met us in Jesus Christ. It was an expectation planted long before New Testament times that God is acting throughout the whole of human history so as to reveal how the divine promises were in due time to be fulfilled.
What a great line in that heading: The gospel transcends despair over the human future.
The Gospel transcends despair. So does God. He transcends everything. So, his plan, and the news about his plan, transcends our worries—he does not need our efforts, or our raw materials, to construct the new, eternal world he’s creating. He does not need our ingenuity and experience to found his kingdom. While he will fix (to the last sinew) every broken human life which comes to him, while he will be closely involved in taking care of every lost soul who wants to follow after him, his work transcends our culture’s anxieties. To come to him, we must drop them, and all our plans, and all our hopes to build a world that endures without him.
Christian hope lives in realism. The message of Jesus makes us clear-eyed about people, and our world, and where human efforts are taking us. Realistic. But not cynical. Not depressed. Because the good news which has found us promises a solution—a king—which is coming, no mater what, very soon.