Tag Archives: hope

Robert E. Lee on History and Hope

Here is another intriguing quote from Robert E. Lee that I picked up in my readings (I believe, again, from Charles Reagan Wilson):

My experience of men has neither disposed me to think worse of them; nor indisposed me to serve them; nor in spite of failures, which I lament, or errors, which I now see and acknowledge, or of the present state of affairs, do I despair of the future. The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient, the work of progress so immense, and our means of aiding it so feeble, the life of humanity is so long, and that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave, and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.

I agree with Lee up until he invokes history. History has taught me everything except to hope in our feeble means of aiding progress. What discourages me is not the photograph of existence that I will experience before I wither like grass in a field, although it certainly would be enough. It is my understanding of history, of seeing how far we have advanced in the art we have made of sin, that makes me despair of progress. Though not of the future; on that Lee and I agree. But my confidence in the future is not based on history or progress but on the providence that Lee so emptily evokes. It is because I can mimic the words of another southern preacher quoted in Wilson: “His ends embrace the universe; His purposes are co-extensive with Time.” I do not give myself over to despair precisely because, unlike Lee, I abandon any belief that man is a causal agent in progress or in attaining the object of our collective hope. My hope is in the Lord.

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The New Pope on Easter

Most people are getting a little weary of hearing about Pope Francis. (I’m not; I’m getting weary of people complaining about how much they are talking about him.) Whose feet is he washing? What did he say about gay marriage? Is he talking to Kirill? How significant is his provenance? His order? His papal name? Etc. It is easy to forget in all this interpretive tumult that the pope is still the spiritual icon for one seventh of the world’s population, one who has a message that is not hidden beneath layers of ambiguous action and mysterious origin. He offers these wonderful thoughts for the Easter Vigil:

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.

Here is the essence of Easter, distilled and repackaged to meet the world’s needs in this moment. The conquest over death is not merely a soteriological mechanism but a testimony to the efficacy of divine action. There is no recession that is more destructive than death, no sorrow which can match its permanence, no wound which can mirror its absoluteness. It is the content of our greatest tragedies and the aim and consequence of our most viscous sins. Yet God took it and transformed it, not into something marginally less terrible but into life itself. It is precisely because of this confidence display of power that we can turn to salvation, that we can expect our own deaths–the individual and the corporate deaths, the physical and the existential deaths–to be transformed ultimately into the eternal life promised for those who love him. In a world acutely aware of its own sufferings and dogged by its own perpetual inability to cure them through its chosen devices, the pope has echoed the psalmist who finds in the fidelity and potency of God the redemptive power of hope: “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”

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Patriarch Calls for World Peace in 2013

In his recent Christmas Encyclical, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has declared 2013 to be a “Year of Global Solidarity” in which he hopes that the powers that be in the world will make strides toward global peace and the eradication of hunger. While I lack the optimism of the Ecumenical Patriarch with regard to wold governments, I cannot help but applaud his sentiments and, more importantly, his audacity. Ours is, after all, a radical hope for a true ideal, one which we must pursue even in the certainty that our efforts will fail.

Let us rejoice in gladness for the ineffable condescension of God.The angels precede us singing: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among all people.”

Yet, on earth we behold and experience wars and threats of wars. Still, the joyful announcement is in no way annulled. Peace has truly come to earth through reconciliation between God and people in the person of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, however, we human beings have not been reconciled, despite God’s sacred will. We retain a hateful disposition for one another. We discriminate against one another by means of fanaticism with regard to religious and political convictions, by means of greed in the acquisition of material goods, and through expansionism in the exercise of political power. These are the reasons why we come into conflict with one another…

This is why, from this sacred See and Center of Orthodoxy, we proclaim the impending new year as the Year of Global Solidarity.

It is our hope that in this way we may be able to sensitize sufficient hearts among humankind regarding the immense and extensive problem of poverty and the need to assume the necessary measures to comfort the hungry and misfortunate.

As your spiritual father and church leader, we ask for the support of all persons and governments of good will in order that we may realize the Lord’s peace on earth – the peace announced by the angels and granted by the infant Jesus. If we truly desire this peace, which transcends all understanding, we are obliged to pursue it palpably instead of being indifferent to the spiritual and material vulnerability of our brothers and sisters, for whom Christ was born…

We hope earnestly and pray fervently that the dawning 2013 will be for everyone a year of global solidarity, freedom, reconciliation, good will, peace and joy. May the pre-eternal Word of the Father, who was born in a manger, who united angels and human beings into one order, establishing peace on earth, grant to all people patience, hope and strength, while blessing the world with the divine gifts of His love. Amen.

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Preparing for the Nativity: Archbishop Demetrios

The following are the thoughts of Archbishop Demetrios, head of Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, from his 2012 encyclical for the Nativity:

The joy and assurance that we have in our communion with God on this holy feast engenders within our hearts an enduring hope. Our joy in the fulfillment of His divine plan for our salvation and our assurance through our faith in the truth of the Gospel, give us a firm hope in His promises of eternal life, for the complete restoration of our fellowship with Him, and for the fulfillment of all things. This is a feast of hope because through it we see all that has been accomplished, and we are given a glimpse of what is to come. This Feast of the Nativity of our Lord affirms for each one of us that we can have hope and joy in any of the circumstances and conditions of life—hope in the transformation of our lives through faith and hope in the power of God’s love.

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Re-Reading Revelation: All Things New (Chs. 21-22)

With the dual climax of victory and judgment now behind, the narrative turns toward the denouement. The great villain leaves the scene for ever and, with the exception of some brief exclusionary phrases, all unpleasantness is behind John. What remains is to see the great reward for which the witnesses of the Lord have endured, to realize the promise that is issued in the death of Christ (depicted in the beginning of the book as the slain Lamb) and finally ensured under the triumphant Christ(depicted at the end of the book as the conqueror on a white horse). God declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Suddenly the world is returned to a pristine paradise, edenic in its appearance only more wonderful still. The Tree of Life is reopened to public consumption without that pesky Tree of Knowledge to wreak havoc with humanity. The river and the garden are accompanied by a great new city that represents Jerusalem as it ought to have been: pure, wonderful, and with God at her center. The imagery is enough to tantalize a lifetime’s worth of imaginings.

Yet, as easy as it may be to delight in the particulars of the picture offered up to us as our hope for eternity–and that delighted is heightened when we consider just how unpleasant the narrative has been to this point–there is a more important theme at work here. Before God declares that all things will be made new, before we tour the New Jerusalem, before the thirsty are promised the waters of life, and before the whole chorus lapses into an eternal doxology, a voice from heaven makes an initial pronouncement: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” In this is the actual resolution of the tension in Revelation. As with the entirety of Scripture, the real villain has not been Satan but separation. Through the entire narrative, the persistent scene has been of the commands of God in heaven and their actualization on earth. God stands at a distance throughout as He works out His plan of justice and, ultimately, reconciliation.

This desire that God should be our God and we His people has been a persistent theme in Scripture. It is the essence of God’s covenant with Abraham which in turn forms the whole basis for the divine work of election and redemption in the world. It was the purpose of Israel’s sacrificial system of atonement that God should have some tangible presence with His people. It was the reason Solomon built the temple and the reason he knew it was ultimately inadequate. It both explains Israel’s disintegration and exile and fuels their hopes for return. Paul will use it to warn Christians against repeating the sins of Israel. This ardent hope, both of God’s and of humanity’s, John depicts as fulfilled. His readers then, as we do now, knew that God’s dwelling with humanity was still merely a promise only partially fulfilled with the gift of His Spirit for His church, but they understood after centuries of having the theme reverberating over and over again in the Scriptures that all their hope rested on the fact that God would someday break through the barriers which separate us.

It is interesting that this declaration of achievement precipitates every other blessing which is offered. Because He is there, God will wipe away all tears, and “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” Our former mode of existence, living apart from God, is no more. In the New Jerusalem, there is no temple anymore. After all, it was merely a symbol of God’s presence; the New Jerusalem needs no inadequate symbols. The city will be beautiful radiance of fine jewels because it has “the glory of God.” This radiance of God replaces the very sun, and all people will walk in His light, by His light. It is He who bids them drink from the river of life. There will be no doubt, no idolatry, no sin, because God is present and has taken His people unto Himself. Cast in this light, the final scene of Revelation becomes for us a call to refocus our hope, to strip ourselves of any superficial desire to escape this material world into a heavenly realm of mansions, robes, crowns, gold, and even more substantial things like release from disease and death and sorrow. All these are accidents. The true substance of our hope is that God should be, in a real and tangible sense, our God and that we may be purely, reverently, joyously, His people.

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For a full list of “Re-reading Revelation” posts, see Re-reading Revelation: Statement of Purpose.

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Re-Reading Revelation: Kingdom Come (Chs. 10-11)

After, perhaps, the Resurrection, these chapters represent one of the most triumphant and exultant scenes in all of Scripture. It represents a glimpse of the promises which have sustained the church since the time of Jesus’ ministry. The mighty angel straddling the world has announced that the fulfillment of the mystery of God will be delayed no longer. Finally, after the terrible trials endured by the faithful and the horrific wrath exacted upon the whole earth by God, the kingdom of the Lord is come. The whole company in heaven announces that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” The twenty-four elders sing still another new song of praise to Lord God Almighty. The temple in heaven is opened and the ark–the symbol of God’s presence with His people–is revealed with flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. The servants of God are rewarded; the destroyers of the world are destroyed; God is glorified. Hallelujah! Amen.

Yet this triumphant image is preceded immediately by a cold reminder of the reality of the church’s road to that glorious moment. First, John is commissioned once again to prophesy, the very behavior which has landed him in exile on Patmos to begin with. This calling is illustrated graphically with the little scroll which, if you’ll pardon the pun, proves a bitter pill to swallow. If it was not already obvious, the eating of the scroll foreshadows the hardship which will always be associated with enlistment into the divine cause.

The succeeding narrative continues this theme, as John records the prophetic career of two witnesses sent to preach to a city. He goes to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate for the reader the awesome power of these witnesses. If they are harmed in anyway, the aggressor will die by that same means. Any offense against them is met with a consuming fire which pours from their mouths. They can shut up the sky, turn rivers to blood, and inflict upon the people any plague imaginable. No sooner has John told us how tremendous is their power, however, then they are martyred on the streets of the city and left their to rot. The two witnesses who stood before the throne of God and wielded His power on earth suffer the same seemingly ignoble fate as so many simple Christians in John’s audience.

The story does not end there nor should our retelling of it. The witnesses are raised, the oppressors punished, the final trumpet sounds, and the Lord reigns. The one truth does not, however, change the other. That there will be vindication one day does not promise any easy road today; the treacherous path to God does not negate the magnitude of His promises. In fact, the two play off each other as they do in this passage. It is precisely the hardship which is endured which make the triumphant announcement of the kingdom so sweet. It is precisely the promise repose of the divine reign that makes the bitterness of the journey bearable. The rapid succession of what appear to be three loosely related stories–John and the little scroll, the two witnesses, and the seventh trumpet–in truth resound this very theme. God’s demands on His people are great, His rewards greater still. We can forever take comfort in this, allowing our hope for salvation be the force which sustains us and spurs us toward greater heights of faithfulness.

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For a full list of “Re-reading Revelation” posts, see Re-reading Revelation: Statement of Purpose.

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The Wisdom of John of Sinai: Hope

In his chapter on faith, hope, and love, John dedicates the overwhelming majority of his time to love. It is, after all, the greatest of the three and the only one that is given as “the very name of God Himself.” He does spare a moment talk about hope, the kind of hope that cooperates with love and sustains us as we flounder in an illusory isolation from God.

Hope is the power behind love. Hope is what causes us to look forward to the reward of love. Hope is an abundance of hidden treasure. It is the abundant assurance of the riches in store for us. It is a rest from labor, a doorway of love. It lifts despair and is the image of what is not yet present. When hope fails, so does love. Struggles are bound by it, labors depend on it, and mercy lies all around it. The hopeful monk slays despondency, kills it with his sword.

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Sunday of the Holy Cross

Scripture:

Revelation 2:2-5a,7

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first…He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God

Genesis 2:8-9

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

History:

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, 21

Paradise therefore will be restored, that tree will be restored which is in truth the tree of life; there will be restored the grace of the image, and the dignity of rule. It does not seem to me that our hope is one for those things which are no subjected by God to man for the necessary uses of life, but one for another kingdom, of a description that belongs to unspeakable mysteries.

Reflection:

Traditionally, the Sunday of the Holy Cross is not a time for somber reflection on the necessity of the cross or to stress penitence over its horrible nature. Instead, it is a time to focus on the victory which the cross achieved on our behalf. We venerate the cross—not as an icon or an idol but as an event, an act of God—and take comfort in the peace which it affords us. As we cross the halfway point of Lent, many of us sorely need this kind of comfort.

It is interesting to note that the Tree of Life provides a great bookend for Scripture as a part of the greater matrix of creation and recreation. In the beginning God creates us with the potential and the purpose of eternal life, not in the sense of a perpetually beating heart or firing neurons but as participation in His infinite Life. When the world is made anew again, he promises us, as he promised the church at Ephesus in Revelation, a share again in that life which we separated ourselves from. Standing gloriously at the center of this great historical chiasmus of creation and redemption is the cross. The ancients saw a type for the cross in the great trees of promise. In Genesis it represents what we lost; in Revelation it represents what has been promised to us again by grace. The true tree of life, however, is the cross where access to this life was thrown open anew. It is there that Death is conquered, not by cheating mortality through wiles or power but by allowing Life to be subjugated to the humiliation of fatality and proving Life to be greater.

Let that be a comfort to us now. Our trials are transient, and we cannot let them dull our great love for Christ. With the Ephesians, we must repent and press on in the good work of God who has already achieved victory for us if we only will join Him in it.

Prayer:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
Thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
–1 Corinthians 15:54-55,57

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