What an outrageous idea: that we, as Christians, should dare to have joy in this world
By Bob Hunt
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”—1 Peter 3:15
“We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song!”—St. Augustine of Hippo
There is a great deal of trouble in the world. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominates the news, of course, while here in the United States we have our own troubles with increased crime, skyrocketing inflation, high gas prices, an insecure southern border, an opioid epidemic, political incivility, and the remnants of the pandemic. The list goes on.
It seems outrageous to speak of hope and “alleluias” amidst the current political, social, and cultural milieu. How is it possible for us to remain hopeful when the world seems to be falling apart all around us? Because our hope is not founded on the cracked foundation of the promise of worldly peace or success.
The Book of Revelation is an often-misunderstood book of the Bible. Many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians read Revelation as if it provided a road map to the end times. That is a dangerous approach and has led some to follow leaders who insisted on a specific date for the second coming, leaving everything behind, only to be disappointed.
It is the faith of the Church that Christ will certainly return, and that His return will be preceded by a time of intense persecution, to the point where the Church will be almost annihilated, only to be saved by our Lord’s second coming.
Written at a time when the early Church was suffering persecutions by Roman emperors, Revelation is a series of obscure visions given to John while in exile on the island of Patmos. The book is filled with bizarre images, creatures, colors, and battles. Ultimately, the book is a word of encouragement to the Christians of the first century that the victory of Christ is not only assured but also already won. If they but remain faithful, they will share in Christ’s victory over death. That message is meant for us today, and for Christians of all ages.
I recall reading an interview with Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest and peace activist. He was asked what gave him hope; was it the fact that more and more young people were joining the peace movement? No, Berrigan answered. That more young people were joining the peace movement was good, but hope is something that keeps you going when you are all alone. “What gives you hope?” he was asked. “Only this,” he replied: “the promises of Jesus.”
It is the promises of Jesus that give us hope. Not the promise of peace. Not the promise of safe neighborhoods. Not the promise of reasonable prices at the grocer or gas station. Not the promise of public civility or vaccines and medications that protect us from illness. Yes, of course, those in government, medicine, and other societal leaders, as well as the Church, are obliged to do all that can be done to secure these things as a matter of justice. But the Scriptures regularly remind us not to put our trust in “princes or mortal men” (Psalm 146:3). Good people do the best they can, but even that is not enough to bring life from death.
We have reason to sing our “alleluias,” because our hope is founded on something beyond anything this world has to offer. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the central claim of our faith and the foundation of our hope. Our hope is that we, too, will be raised from the dead, that death has no hold on us. This ought to inspire in us an attitude toward daily living that rises above the cynicism and pessimism rampant in our contemporary culture. This ought to inspire in us a perspective rooted in the confidence that there is more to life than what this world has to offer. This ought to inspire in us a way of walking through this world that reflects our hope and our joy.
Joy! What an outrageous idea: that we, as Christians, should dare to have joy in this world. The verse from 1 Peter implies that Christian hope would be so apparent to others that it would inspire them to inquire about the cause of that hope, so that we should be ever ready to give an explanation. And what is that explanation? The promises of Jesus. The promise of the resurrection, the promise of the victory of Christ not merely assured, but already won. Thanks be to God! Alleluia!
Bob Hunt is a husband, father, grandfather, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville and is a candidate for the permanent diaconate.