In some ways I feel like the kid in the following joke: A Sunday school teacher asked the class, "What's brown, furry, has a bushy tail and likes to eat nuts?" A kid tentatively raised his hand and said, "I know the answer is supposed to be 'Jesus,' but it sure sounds like a squirrel!" As an Evangelical Friend, I know the answer to "What gives you hope?" is supposed to be an unqualified, "Jesus!" And to this I say, "Yes...but...." And here's a bit of "Why." I think this will take a few posts, because otherwise you'll never read to the end!
When I began writing this article, I thought that I locate hope in history: in seeing the people who have allowed God to transform their lives in world-changing ways. As I mulled over this thought some more, I realized that what brings me hope about these people is that they provide a spiritual community that reaches across time. They whisper words of encouragement in my ear and give me courage. They cheer me on. They make me feel like I’m not crazy—although that’s debatable, since people who have been dead for hundreds or thousands of years are apparently talking to me! Despite that, I’m reminded of the passage about the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12, following the famous chapter in Hebrews 11 that recounts the story of so many strange and misfit heroes and heroines of the faith.
I realized that in their stories and the stories of so many others since then, I can see that I’m not alone in yearning for the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, the utopian dream of a perfect world, a “more perfect union,” heaven on Earth, shalom. We all see it—perhaps as if in a mirror, dimly (1 Cor 13:12), or maybe even distorted like a carnival mirror—but we all know what it’s like to wish and hope and dream for a better world. Some of us hold onto this hope, and some seem to just give up, knowing it will never come and deciding it’s not worth striving for.
I’m not trying to say the Kingdom of God will come into the whole world in physical time and space (in any way short of the Apocalypse, if indeed that should even be taken literally). In some ways this leads me to feel like all my desires for justice are futile and it makes me want to give up hope, to just be grateful that I’m comfortable and my needs are taken care of and not worry about anything else. It’s so tempting to just leave it at that.
But Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you and among you” (Luke 17:21, Amplified Bible), and I think by living into that Kingdom, we’re participating in a spiritual community that isn’t bound by time. By actively seeking that Kingdom and by moving toward it, we’re allowing a portal to open up into our world, a portal of Light and hope, a window into that universally yearned for shalom. When we do this, we are living in the Kingdom of God, and we are bringing that Kingdom to others, the Inward Light of Christ pouring out into the world like a light through a clear window on a dark night. This provides me the beginnings of hope.