Hope And Community

“…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).

Hope is essential for human well-being. Conversely, the lack of sufficient hope is the root cause of many, if not most, social ills, i.e. addiction, depression, domestic violence, marital problems, poverty, etc. While this means that individuals who have such problems suffer from inadequate personal hope, there is more to it than that. Of course, personal hope is part of the problem. But what is more important than the lack of sufficient individual hope is the lack of sufficient community or communal hope. Hope is a social thing. Hope is like financial capital in that we each have a little that we contribute to the public square where hope is stored and invested in future undertakings. When we are personally low on hope, we can borrow from the public holdings, and when we are flush we can increase our deposits to the public square.

Hope is defined as a positive expectation or anticipation, which means that by definition it is future oriented. And because human beings are social beings, many of the most important and effective aspects of hope are communal. Hope requires a fundamental trust in the immediate future, trust that one’s own personal and communal or local well-being is not threatened. This usually means trust in sufficient basics like food, shelter, work, etc. It requires both individual and communal trust in a sustainable future because individuals depend on local community relations in a thousand different ways. Hope is necessarily both community oriented and future oriented.

Question

Hope-plant

How can such a flimsy plant break through hardened asphalt?

How can such a flimsy plant break through hardened asphalt?

Does the past push the present moment forward into the future? Or does the future pull the present moment forward? The question probably sounds odd, but it is very practical. It’s really a question about how things happen. Do past circumstances push themselves into the present? Or does the future pull new circumstances into the present?

The answer is some of both, because the present moment is the intersection of memory (past) and hope (future). The past pushes, and the future pulls. But because the direction and momentum of the past can be changed, it is not determinative. The future is not dependent upon the direction of the past. Or as financial planners say, “Past performance is not an assurance of future results.”

In order to change the momentum and/or direction of the present, an alternative future must be envisioned and enacted both personally and socially (shared). And that vision of the future is birthed in hope. Hope draws the present moment into the future. This is precisely what God does: He has envisioned a future for humanity and is drawing people into His vision of our future. God does not push people into His future, He draws them in through attraction, interest, and love. God leads from the future, not from the past. Our task, then, is to envision and embrace God’s future for us both individually and as a community.

While God’s plan is about His future, our repentance is about our past. We, individuals and communities, are called into repentance by God from the future. He can do that because God is not subject to time, as we are. God transcends time. God can do that because He is Triune. The relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is generative. The Trinity is a kind of DNA in that it is able to create, to reproduce. All living things have the ability to reproduce by definition. Thus God begets the Son who regenerates His children through His Spirit. Our likeness in the image of God is a likeness of Spirit or character that manifests through regeneration. Because God is Triune, He is community centric in Himself. He is a unified plurality, or a plural singularity. He is many (threefold), but without parts. This means that God is best represented by His wholeness, His holiness, His uniqueness. There is only one of Them; He are One (if I may so abuse English).

The power of hope can escape the momentum and/or direction of the past by pulling the present into a future that is first envisioned and then enacted. God does this historically, and we can also do it because we have been created in God’s image. We don’t do it as well as God does, but we do it much better when we cooperate with His hope, His plans, and His people. How can we know God’s plan? God’s plan and vision of hope has been written in the Bible. It’s a big book, and not always easy to understand. I have written much about how to rightly understand the Bible.

God knows everything that our scientists currently know about the universe—and more, and God knew it from the very beginning (Gen. 1:1)! He knew that we would come to this place in human history, and He factored it into His vision of hope and His plan. The world today is on the brink of the very things God predicted in the Bible, and that Christ came to save us from. It would be silly of us to neglect the greatest source of hope and direction—both personal and social—that history has ever known: the Bible.

Cannot Fail

God’s vision of the future for His people cannot fail to be accomplished because God uses hope and the attractive force of the future to draw His people forward. Time is like a string, linear. Pushing a string forward, from the past into the present, doesn’t work. But when the string is pulled, from the future into the present, into God’s future, the eye of God’s needle cannot fail to be threaded as He draws us from our past into His future. It’s like He uses a vacuum cleaner to suck the string (the stories of our lives) through the eye of His needle, so no matter where the string is today, it cannot fail to find God’s future. String, made of threads, is woven together. God is pulling these narrative historical threads (stories) into the future of His envisioning, both the larger, more general threads of history, and the individual, historic threads of particular lives.

We must take into consideration that our understanding of God’s vision for our future is always incomplete in the present. It is flawed and therefore must always grow and adapt to our changing historical context. Though God’s vision of the future does not change, our understanding of God’s vision must continuously adapt to our changing historical context in order for it to be fresh, real, and functional. We must always be aware of our immediate context and factor it into our current understanding. Holding on to the past, or to some historic human expression of God’s vision of the future becomes increasingly problematic over time. “Water down stream cannot be used to turn the mill.” Yet, failure to consider the importance and impact of the past, or the various historic human expressions of God’s vision of the future leads to the failure to appropriately understand and apply His vision in the present. We cannot ignore the past, nor can we depend on it. But we can depend on God’s future.

Faith

Faith is the trust that something we understand is true, valuable, and actual. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” While faith exists in the present, it looks to the future. And it is this future orientation that accounts for its not being seen in the present. Faith is trusting that God is pulling your string through the eye of His needle. It is trusting in God’s future, God’s hope for humanity.

We talk a lot about faith today, but we speak as if the object of faith doesn’t matter, as if faith in anything is as good as faith in anything else. But this is not true! The object of faith is very important because it will either lead us aright or lead us astray. Thus, the correct object of Christian faith is God’s vision of His future for His people. That is, God’s hope is the object of Christian faith. Our faith is in God’s hope for us. Christian hope does not issue from or belong to individual Christians. It issues from God, from God’s story of the creation, fall, redemption, restoration, and service of His people on earth—from the Bible. That’s the source. God gave His faith to Jesus Christ, who in turn gives His faith to us. The faith that we have as Christians is not our own, rather it is the faith of Christ, the faith that gave Christ the confidence to endure the cross for the hope of God’s future for humanity.

Love

Love is the exercise of faith. Where faith is an attitude, love is an action. Where faith involves belief, love involves activity. Faith believes, and love acts on that belief. Consequently, love requires other people. Love is not a solitary activity, but is necessarily social, other people must be involved. This also means that hope is social, communal, because love involves faith and faith involves hope, God’s hope for His people. While God saves individuals, He saves them into community. No one is ever saved alone.

Christian love is not a feeling, it is a commitment, a covenant. Christian love is never passive, but always manifests in action, behavior. Christian love is a verb, and requires an object and a subject, a community in which to manifest. Love is not something that one person can do alone.

To restore hope in an individual requires the restoration of a local, immediate, community of hope in which the individual can function. Hope without fellowship is empty because hope lives in community. So, the loss of personal hope issues from the loss of community hope. The lack of personal hope issues from a lack of community hope. The bottom line is that hope cannot be restored in individuals alone, but must also be restored in communities.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Hope is restored neighborhood by neighborhood by people committed to restoring communities of hope, communities that can trust in their own sustainable future, communities that can provide adequate food, shelter, work, etc. While these basics are necessary, they are not adequate for the restoration of hope because genuine hope requires the restoration of wholesomeness, both personal wholesomeness and community wholesomeness—even human wholesomeness. Such wholesomeness is the vision of God’s hope for His people.

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