It was my privilege to share this message with the staff and students of Redeemer Christian High School in Ottawa on May 18, 2016.
News media report that hope lost has led to a continuing epidemic of teen suicide in Atawapiskat, Ontario.
This same concept of lost hope has been identified as the cause of teen suicide across Canada, not just in one remote community.
In reporting this phenomenon, an assumption has been made. It is assumed that we know what hope is; and how to lose it.
When I was 15 years old, I lost hope – at least, I thought I did.
My parents had divorced ten years earlier, but I was just a little kid at the time so I didn’t really know that it was unusual for a child to spend the summer with his Dad and the school year with his Mum. My Dad remarried when I was 9. Still, I had this idea that my parents might get back together. After all, my Dad had left my Mum, my two older sisters and me, right? He could leave his new wife and little girl, right?
But when I was 15, Mum remarried. A few months later, I left to spend my summer with Dad. Shortly after I got home I was struck with the awareness that my parents were not going to get back together. I was also awakening to the fact that my family was different from my friends’ families. And, I lost hope. Or, at least I think I did.
What is hope? How is it lost? And, perhaps more importantly, how can hope be found again?
First, what hope is not.
German theologian Jürgen Moltmann recently celebrated his 90th birthday. (I know that seems a lot older to some of you than it does to me.)
In his book Theology of Hope, Moltmann suggests that, in the 21st century, we have confused optimism with hope. And, as a result, many people no longer understand hope.
Another theologian, Miroslav Volf from Yale University’s Center for Faith and Culture, saves us all a bit of reading by summarizing Moltmann’s key concepts in the book A Public Faith. Volf writes:
In Theology of Hope Jürgen Moltmann famously distinguishes between hope and optimism. Both have to do with positive expectation, and yet the two are very different. Optimism has to do with good things in the future that are latent in the past and the present; the future associated with optimism – Moltmann calls it futurum – is an unfolding of what is already there. We survey the past and the present, extrapolate about what is likely to happen in the future, and if the prospects are good, become optimistic.
Optimism, then, is the positive expectation that our past and our present will likely result in our good future.
So, what is hope?
Hope, on the other hand, has to do with good things in the future that come to us from “outside,” from God; the future associated with hope – Moltman calls it adventus – is a gift of something new. We hear the word of divine promise, and because God is love we trust in God’s faithfulness. God then brings about “a new thing”: aged Sarah, barren of womb, gives birth to a son (Gen. 21:1-2; Rom. 4:18-21); the crucified Christ is raised from the dead (Acts 2:22-36); a mighty Babylon falls and a new Jerusalem comes down from heaven (Rev. 18:1-24; 21:1-5); more generally, the good that seemed impossible becomes not just possible but real.
The expectation of good things that come from God – that is hope.
Perhaps, what I lost at 15 wasn’t hope after all; but, optimism. I had let go of the idea that my family could be like my friends’ families if… if my parents could only re-find the love that had gone missing in their relationship. Clearly they now loved other people.
I had also come to the realization that I could not make it happen. I could not fix my broken and altogether different family.
That may suggest the best summary for lost optimism, “I cannot.” My past and present tell me “I cannot.”
Lost hope is more than that. Lost hope is more than “I can’t.”
Lost hope is a belief and feeling of being disconnected. Disconnected from friends. Disconnected from family. Disconnected from the world around me. Coupled with a sense that I don’t know how to re-connect and thoughts that maybe I should just disconnect permanently. Yes, I’ve been there too, at times.
When we can’t look back at the past or look at our today and believe, or feel, that something good will come from that, we need something more.
I like Moltman’s choice of adventus to describe that “something more” we need. We need something from outside of ourselves to reconnect.
When I hear the Latin word adventus, my first thoughts turn to Advent – the celebration of the coming of Jesus into the world. The season of waiting for the celebration of His birth. Even if we are unable to capture all of the anticipation in waiting for the baby to be born, we can get pretty excited thinking about what gifts we’ll rip into on Christmas, or the looks on the faces of those to whom we give gifts.
Adventus is that something that has to come from outside our own expectations and abilities, then meets us at our point of need. That’s what the true story of Jesus is all about. God giving His all to meet us at our point of need.
The people of Israel had been waiting. Waiting expectantly. Waiting for their Messiah, the Anointed One of God, to come. They had endured defeat at the hands of their enemies. They had endured being shipped off to other countries as refugees, and then gradually filtering back home to a land their Roman conquerors renamed Palestine.
Then came Jesus – breaking in from outside. They wanted a superhero Deliverer, but he was more like a friend who comes alongside to comfort and encourage.
History has shown that Jesus was, and is, the Anointed One. In the Hebrew language, “Anointed One” is translated “Messiah.” In Greek, “Anointed One” is translated “Christ.”
Jesus was, and is, the Christ.
After His death, Jesus’ followers waited in Jerusalem until God’s Holy Spirit was released upon them – that’s the Pentecost the Church celebrated worldwide a few Sundays ago, God’s Spirit being poured out on all who believe in Jesus. And some time after Pentecost, at Antioch, the Jesus followers were first called “Christians.” “Christians” actually means “little Anointed Ones.” A friend of mine says we Christians are “anointlings,” little anointed ones; not to be confused with “annoyings.” Although, we probably all know some annoying Christians.
As anointlings we have something unique to offer the world, including those who may have lost hope, even our friends who may need something from outside of them to help them reconnect in life. As anointlings, we are like “Jesus with skin on.”
We know that God is a spiritual Being. We know that He came into the world as a baby, lived, was crucified and raised to life again on the third day before ascending into heaven. But sometimes we need more than what we know. Sometimes, we need Jesus with skin on.
When, as a teenager, I became depressed – wallowing in my music, television and thoughts of my own uselessness – God blessed me with friends who would work their way past my mother at the door, down the steps to my room at the back of the basement and drag me out of the house to play ball hockey, baseball, football or RISK. Sometimes it was annoying! But, they didn’t put me down. They pulled me up.
I think our world needs more of that. Our world needs Christians who know they are anointlings, Jesus with skin on. If you think you’ve lost hope, remember you are surrounded by anointlings. Invite them into your world.
Maybe, you know someone who needs a little anointling – maybe even some annoying anointling. I encourage you, be the anointling you are. Be kind. In Jesus’ name.