LOOKING FOR HOPE IN PERILOUS TIMES ©
Dr. Paul R. Shockley
15 December 2012
“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” ~ Blaise Pascal
“Hope” is such a beautiful word. It does not sound all that beautiful when one pronounces the word “hope.” Hope is a simple one syllable word with no memorable sound. Yet the word “hope” gives comfort to those who are hurting. Hope generates dreams, fosters anticipation, and breeds possibilities. Like G. K. Chesterton once stated: “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.”
But when we consider our individuality against the backdrop of the universe we come to discover that we are merely a speck of dust. As we peer out into cosmos some of us have come to share a sentiment once made by 17th century Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal, namely, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” While the universe is indeed expansive, it is also brutal, inhospitable to the nature we see around us.
Even though the universe is harsh, we see the most amazing calculations that take our breath away. We are able to empirically observe multifarious evidences that a fine tuning of the universe has taken place, naturally leading us to conclude that God created all of these things in order to create and sustain organic life in general, and human life in particular. The location and rotation of Earth, the gravitational forces, the speed of light, the earth’s axial tilt, the thickness of earth’s crust, and even lightning discharge, all reflect the mind of an Intelligent Designer. As Aristotle once observed in his critique of Empedocles, philosophical naturalism leaves too much to chance. All the design we see around us leads us to conclude that philosophical naturalism not only suffers the fallacy of reductionism, but also lacks explanatory power, coherence, and a holistic morality that adequately addresses both “being” (disposition of intellectual and moral excellence) and “doing” (what are we obligated to do?).
Coupled with a yearning for spiritual completeness whereby our existential needs will be met, many of us have discovered through a relationship with the God of the Bible a certain satisfaction and an overriding confidence that we are eternally loved, safe, and secure. Because of God we have significance and value (Romans 8). Hope is enflamed, an ultimate purpose for our lives is given, a consummate destiny is being forged, and our greatest desires will be satisfied.
Yet, we admit that see death and destruction all around us. Because evil is the corruption of something good, violence strikes the young and the old. Reckless hate emerges in the most unlikely places (kindergarten class in Connecticut). From the enslavement of children to the horrors of racism, from forced prostitution to domestic abuse, we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste suffering all around us. People go hungry. Death camps are built and over six million Jews are exterminated. Millions and millions of lives wiped out for selfish political gain. Even with all of our historical lessons from both the good and the bad, the exponential developments made in technology, science, and medicine, we still cannot seem to conquer this propensity to create conflict, division, pain, and tragedy.
But interestingly, the affirmation of evil actually assumes the existence of God. C. S. Lewis came to discover this profound truth as expressed in his phenomenal work, Mere Christianity (pg. 45):
[As an atheist] my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?
Thus, following an observation I heard Dr. Ravi Zacharias once state in a presentation he gave concerning evil and suffering, evil affirms goodness for it there is evil, then there is also good. If there is goodness, then there must be an objective moral law. If there is an objective moral law, then there is a transcendent Moral Law Giver. But if there is no moral law giver, then there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, then there is no good. If there is no good, then there is no evil. Stated differently, apart from a Christian worldview, how can we actually and adequately explain horrific evil? How can we even explain altruistic acts of benevolence if naturalism is correct? How can we even account for the evil within ourselves?
Yet, if God does exist, and it is plainly evident to those whose faculties are working properly, then why do so many of us find ourselves in situations where hope translates into mere wishful thinking? Indeed, the weight of our afflictions, problems, troubles, and vices can smother out the coals where hope used to burn bright.
For example, perhaps your marriage is not where it is supposed to be and you have come to the conclusion that recovery is not possible. You are estranged from a loved one (s) and it seems like it is beyond repair. Your life-long dreams are crushed by certain choices and you think it is impossible to put the pieces back together again. You look back at your life and it seems wasted. Your best years are spent and you have come to that conclusion that it is too late. You wish you had made wise decision. But alas, it is what it is. The optimist you once had has been replaced with melancholy. Your happiness has turned to sadness. You have been hurt. The pain you carry has found pertinent expression. The question becomes, will your pain morph into bitterness or will decompose into apathy?
Are you suffocating? Do you feel caught in a web of mundane, routine living? You get up, you work, and you go to bed. You used to dream big, but those dreams have dissipated into thin air. You ask yourself repeatedly, “Is this all that there is?” You hope there is more to life but each day is like the day before. Your past, present, and future is all a blur. No experience is memorable, no striking moments where joy finds expression, whereby delight is awakened and beauty is touched.
Do you feel pillaged? Oppressed? Has violence find expression in your life? Do you feel like you are a victim of unfortunate circumstances that lie outside of your control? You see the oppression everywhere. Pain and death walk around you; all is dark.
Are you suffering with guilt? You are carrying this burden of regret and if you are honest, you know that you pain you caused others, the injury you did to yourself has not only changed those who love you the most, but they have been costly to your own. You look at yourself in the mirror and you see the marring and scarring of your own choices. How you wish you made different choices and now you live with this great burden. The mere talk of forgiveness is an empty promise. Hope of freedom from this pain seems futile.
Have all the changes that occur around you and in you displace the hope you once carried. Has anticipation of better days been taken away from you?
How can we make sense of it all?
I invite you to candidly explore the Christian with an open mind and go where the evidence leads. I believe you will discover that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that can best handle these contrarieties, offering the greatest amount of explanatory power, empirical adequacy, and existential relevance. I came to the realization that this worldview is not only viable, workable, and qualitatively enriches lives and communities when consistently followed, but is also morally and aesthetically poignant, powerful, and striking, offering lasting fulfillment, joy, and satisfaction.
I have come to the understanding that the Christian faith is not viable because one chooses to believe, it is viable because it is true, rooted in actual history as expressed in the person, work, death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is so amazing about the God of the Bible is that this Jesus, who is God, and who died on the cross for our sins and rose again, suffered with us. He is not a God who is far off, having no specific concern for you and me. No, upon the cross of Calvary whereby Jesus substituted Himself so that we might have the possibility of eternal life in fulfillment of biblical passages as evidenced in Isaiah 52:13-53:12, we discover that on the cross the greatest themes that we long for converge: unselfish love, unquenchable hope, ultimate meaning, destiny, and eternal purpose. Even though Jesus’ death was brought about by the hands of those who embraced injustice, violence, and cruelty, values emerge that have brought and continue to bring healing to those who broken, comfort to those who are in pain, and freedom to those who are enslaved to destructive appetites and fleshly tendencies. Our uniqueness as expressed in the way God has made each of us finds wholeness.
Thus, the and only Triune God of this universe is also the same God who offers hope while you have air to breathe. He takes all these contrarieties and brings harmony to them on the cross. The only condition for salvation, regardless of your past mistakes and failures, is trust alone in Christ alone. Therefore, I invite you to place your trust in Jesus Christ, who is God and died on the cross for your sins and rose bodily from the dead. Will you do that today? Let him heal your pain, bring wholeness to your brokenness, exchange your emptiness for joy, and generate coherence for your mind. Your angst will be removed, your quest will be realized, and His peace will govern your life no matter how turbulent or perilous your situation becomes.