From Bondage to the Desert – 1.6 The Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross – 4

1.6.4 Hope in Despair

When persecution strikes and when physical and emotional pain becomes unbearable, it is very easy even for the strongest Christians to lose heart and to fall into despair. In moments like these we learn to depend on the help and encouragement of the community of faith.

All down the centuries, the faithful have been able to use different means in order to overcome the hopelessness brought about by such painful experiences. Thus suffering has often been sublimated into beautiful poetry and music, profound prayers, and special acts of commitment and service to other people in need.

In biblical times, a special role was played in such circumstances by apocalyptic literature. Thus some portions of the books of Daniel and Zechariah as well as the book of Revelation in the New Testament reflect a special manner of coping with pain and despair. These writings sought to instil in God’s people an eschatological hope (the imminent coming of the Messiah at the end of the Old Testament times and later the anticipation of the imminent return of Christ, expressed in the early Christian greeting Maranatha, ‘our Lord is returning soon’). The key message of this kind of literature is something like this: ‘There is not long to wait until the oppressors are judged by God and the people of God are free’.

The important thing to keep in mind in relation to such coping mechanisms is that we need to avoid becoming obsessed with them. Thus, when in despair, people tend to become obsessed with eschatology, with end-time scenarios and even with predictions of when precisely the end will come (in spite of clear biblical warnings against this – see Acts 1:7). And when such predictions are obviously not fulfilled, they tend to become depressed and lose their faith in God.

Such times are difficult tests of our faith, and as our Lord said, referring specifically to the end times, ‘if those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened’ (Matt. 24:22). This is why we need to learn to keep our minds clear and to depend on God’s grace for everything.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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