WHAT IS THE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN HOPE?
At a time when people often have trouble finding reasons to hope, those who place their trust in the God of the Bible need more than ever to "give to anyone who asks an account of the hope that is in [them]" (1 Peter 3:15). They have to understand what is specific about the hope that comes from faith, in order to root their lives in it.
Even if by definition hope refers to the future, for the Bible it is rooted in the present, in God’s today. In the Letter 2003, Brother Roger reminds us that "[The source of hope] is in God, a God who simply loves us and can do nothing else, a God who never stops seeking us."
In the Hebrew Bible, that mysterious Source of life we call God makes himself known by calling human beings to enter into a relationship with him: he enters into a covenant with them. The Bible defines the characteristics of the covenant God using two Hebrew words: hesed and emeth (e.g. Exodus 34:6; Psalm 25:10; 40:10-11; 85:10). In general, these words are translated by "steadfast love" and "faithfulness." They tell us, first of all, that God is overflowing goodness and kindness who wants to take care of his people and, second, that God will never abandon those he has called to enter into fellowship with him.
That is the source of biblical hope. If God is good and never changes his attitude nor forsakes us, then whatever difficulties may arise—if the world we see is far from justice, peace, solidarity and compassion—for believers this is not the definitive situation. From their faith in God, believers draw the expectation of a world according to God’s will or, to put it another way, according to God’s love.
In the Bible, this hope is often expressed by the notion of promise. When God enters into contact with human beings, generally this is accompanied by the promise of greater life. We already see this in the story of Abraham: "I will bless you," says God to Abraham, "and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:2-3).
A promise is a dynamic reality that opens new possibilities for human life. It looks toward the future, but it is rooted in a relationship with the God who speaks to me here and now, who calls me to make specific choices in my life. The seeds of the future are found in a present relationship with God.
This rootedness in the present is made even stronger with the coming of Christ Jesus. In him, says Saint Paul, all God’s promises are already a reality (2 Corinthians 1:20). This does not only refer, of course, to someone who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago. For Christians, Jesus is the Risen Christ who is with us today. "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
Another text of Saint Paul’s is even clearer. "Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). Far from being a simple wish for the future with no guarantee that it will come about, Christian hope is the presence of divine love in person, the Holy Spirit, a current of life that carries us to the ocean of the fullness of communion.
How can we root our lives in Christian hope?
Biblical and Christian hope does not mean living in the clouds, dreaming of a better life. It is not merely a projection of what we would like to be or do. It leads us to discover seeds of a new world already present today, because of the identity of our God, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This hope is, in addition, a source of energy to live differently, not according to the values of a society based on the thirst for possession and competition.
In the Bible, the divine promise does not ask us to sit down and wait passively for it to come about, as if by magic. Before speaking to Abraham about the fullness of life offered to him, God says, "Leave your country and your home for the land I will show you" (Genesis 12:1). To enter into God’s promise, Abraham is called to make of his life a pilgrimage, to undergo a new beginning.
Similarly, the good news of the resurrection is not a way of taking our minds off the tasks of life here and now, but a call to set out on the road. "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? … Go into the entire world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation… You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:11; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8).
Impelled by the Spirit of Christ, believers live in deep solidarity with humanity cut off from its roots in God. Writing to the Christians of Rome, Saint Paul speaks of the longing of creation and compares this suffering to the pangs of childbirth. Then he continues, "We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly" (Romans 8:18-23). Our faith is not a privilege that take us out of the world; we "groan" with the world, sharing its pain, but we live this situation in hope, knowing that, in Christ, "the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8).
Hoping, then, means first of all discovering in the depths of the present a Life that leads forward and that nothing is able to stop. It also means welcoming this Life by a yes spoken by our whole being. As we embark on this Life, we are lead to create signs of a different future here and now, in the midst of the difficulties of the world, seeds of renewal that will bear fruit when the time comes.
For the first Christians, the clearest sign of this new world to come was the existence of communities made up of people of different backgrounds and languages. Because of Christ, these tiny communities sprang up everywhere in the Mediterranean world. Going beyond the divisions of all sorts that kept people apart from one another, these men and women lived as brothers and sisters, as God’s family, praying together and sharing their possessions according to the needs of each person (cf. Acts 2:42-47). They strived to have "one and the same love, [be] united in spirit and focused on the same thing" (Philippians 2:2). In that way they shone out like points of light in the world (cf. Philippians 2:15). From the very beginning, Christian hope kindled a fire on the earth.
Letter from Taizé: 2003/3