I’ve been immersed recently in the topic of hope, and am convinced this supernatural virtue is particularly crucial for Christ-followers today. Hope carries us when the quickly-gathering darkness appears to be winning. Hope keeps our hearts anchored in Christ as we await the fullness of His kingdom. The heavenly orientation of hope sharpens our discernment, strengthens our courage, and steadies us to persevere. Because hope is so essential, it’s also under continual assault. The Enemy poses clever and relentless temptations to lure us away from hopeful living, and our prideful sin-nature has its own reasons for straying. I enjoy baking — or maybe it’s that I enjoy eating baked goods — and have cupcake papers in my kitchen from a brand called “If You Care.” This packaging makes me laugh out loud because it’s such a comical instance of the counterfeit of hope that pervades western culture.
This sneaky counterfeit of hope is what church tradition calls presumption: the failure of humility that supposes we’ve arrived. Presumption wrongly assumes that there’s no need for the fear and trembling of working out our salvation. The moralistic tone of “If You Care” is marketing a clear conscience to any customer who buys their brand (and inferring guilt to any who don’t). So many movements today suggest that we humans, in our own strength and goodness, are in a position to right what is wrong in the world. Presumption forgets that God is on the move, setting things right in the only efficacious and wise way, and that His initiative will be fully consummated by Christ’s second coming. God invites us to join His mission, to point to and rejoice in and serve the coming of His kingdom. If you care, the best thing you can do is to seek to become a deeply devoted follower of Christ who lives every moment humbly walking in His Spirit. By remaining intently focused on His promises, and His will and power to fulfill them, we will enjoy the glorious privilege of playing some small part as He sets things right. By remaining intently focused on Him, we will be saved from the delusion that we’ve arrived at a place of personal goodness and wealth whereby our humanistic caring and social action can give us peace with God and our fellow man.
The other enemy of hope this silly slogan echoes is despair, a sinister vice that traps us in a place of no-more-becoming. “If You Care” suggests it’s possible not to care. In reality, as long as we’re alive we do care, we do long for fullness of life for ourselves and the world around us. Despair isn’t able to extinguish the imperishable spark of desire, it just wars against it by pushing it down. Those who have convinced themselves they don’t care are fighting a miserable inner battle against the indestructible desire for fulfillment. Despair pretends it doesn’t care. But we who have a truly Christian anthropology know better. Our outlook is distinct from the moralistic, neighbor-judging hostility that dismisses those who haven’t joined our cause as not caring (and thus as having a less-than-human heart). It is our privilege to see as God sees, to know that the spark of life yet burns in every heart, that a bridgehead of good remains by which His grace can invade. When we have strayed into the swamp of despair (all too easy when life gets tough), we need the Body to help us hear Christ’s voice calling us back to hope. We need brothers and sisters to woo, prod, nurture and challenge us to take possession again of our desire for life. We must reach out to one another and say, “You do care, so let’s sojourn on together in the hope we have in Christ!”
Yours in Him,
Painting: James Tissot, 1886-1894, The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.