There are plenty of people who are willing to write off the Christian church, believing that we have no future; that we are without hope. In a recent article, one journalist argued that with the worldwide spread of education, technology and science, the need for religion would evaporate. Our world would become at last religion-less, a bit like John Lennon’s song, Imagine – the dream of a world free of religion.
Rather than ask, ‘has the church a future?’ I first want to ask, ‘has the human race a future?’
Ideas of the future exercise a great hold over us. Indeed, we need some idea of the future if we are to achieve anything in the present. The trainee soldier, athlete, politician and student are often motivated by a sense of what may lie ahead. In our diverse society, different hopes about the future are emerging.
The humanist looks for a society where human reason and mutual consideration will flourish. The environmentalist hopes for a sustainable world where pollution is minimised and the earth flourishes again. Many dream of higher standards of living, full employment, a fairer distribution of wealth, an end to poverty, injustice, violence and greater prosperity. Christians, while sharing these hopes, have a distinctive contribution to make when thinking about the future.
We do not agree with the pessimists who think there is little hope left for our broken world. Nor do we agree with the optimists who think we are improving all the time and that Utopia is not too far away. A Christian response thinks the pessimists are half right; we too at times despair of human nature.
Reading story after story from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, one has to agree that human beings are capable of demonic depravity. The pessimists, however, seem to have left God out of the picture. We agree with the optimists when they claim our world is a garden and not a scrap heap. But, they are wrong in thinking that faith in humanity and in human systems alone will bring about a restored and renewed world. It is only God who can ultimately do this.
Christian hope is based in the great transformation that is brought about through Jesus Christ. In the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, of Christ we sense there is great hope for our world. Through word and deed, Jesus of Nazareth brought hope to all kinds of people. He spoke of God’s Kingdom breaking in, giving a foretaste of the justice, love and peace for which we all hope. He gave hope to the oppressed, the lonely, the sick and the sinner. He also demolished the false hopes of those who believed that power, possessions and privilege would give substance to the future. Jesus is a living hope for the future. If we live in Christ, we live in hope, even when all appears gloomy and seemingly hopeless.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15: 13.
Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church in WA