Thursday, October 15, 2015

After pain comes…

I’m not a baseball fan, per se. But I know that, for many, this is the best time of year. Major League Baseball Playoffs. That’s doubly so if your favorite team remains in the championship hunt!

Famously, the Major League team with the longest championship drought is the Chicago Cubs. Their last ultimate victory was 1908. A famous joke goes, “’What did Jesus say to the Cubs before he ascended?’ ‘Don’t do anything until I return!’” Thus, you’d forgive any Cubs’ fan from forgoing the old bromide, “There’s always next year…” If it were me, I may’ve have stopped saying that around, oh, the Korean War!

And yet…the Cubs are in the playoffs this year, leading people I know in/from/concerned with Chicago to brush off dreams of championship parades. I was in seminary in Chicago the last time this possibility arose. The town got crazy (including a world-renowned Bible scholar/professor of mine…funny story I’ll tell some another time). Then, as now, hope sprung eternal. You almost feel bad for them, right? How many times can folk get back up to hope again?

Among my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Now these three abide- faith, hope and love- and the greatest of these is love.” Good stuff about love. The further claim, though, that faith and hope are different, is also good stuff, worth exploring further.

For instance, suppose you say, “I have faith that the Cubs will win.” You’re making a prediction, right? You’re contending some knowledge about what will, or is most likely, to occur. By contrast, suppose you said, “I hope the Cubs will win.” This time, you’re sharing an aspiration. It may get crushed in a week, but you haven’t projected some claim about what is, or will be true. You’ve simply hoped.

Which might sound weak. But consider what Martin Luther- the great 16th century reformer- said about the difference between faith and hope: “Faith is the beginning of life, before all tribulation; hope proceeds from tribulation.” Translating from his outdated vocabulary, he’s saying that hope, properly speaking, can only arise after you’ve run into trouble. Hope means nothing if you’ve always avoided problems, always won. Yankee fans better not pretend to “hope.” They have too many trophies! Faith is important too, of course, but hope is the resilient partner in that pairing.

I find that claim inspiring. Consider again my previous suggestion that, after so long coming up short, Cubs’ fans should give up. After being beaten down consistently, should you ever hope again?! From the perspective of faith, yes! Indeed, it’s only because of our troubles, tribulations, encounters with sin, accepting of the need for forgiveness and justice, that we’re able to hope in the first place. If we never open our eyes to challenge, we’re creating fantasies.

Using sports as the analogy for this, I realize, is cheap. So consider, instead, a single mother desperate to keep her kids fed, an aging grandfather worrying how long he’ll remain independent, a student being bullied again and again. The terrible temptation in all those scenarios is accepting defeat, giving up and giving in, pretending that that your troubles truly define you, that you have no reason to hope. And yet…we serve this God who endured the worst, in Jesus, so that we’d see he came out best. And we will too. In other words, our faith in his victory should give us hope in our own.

Not that we can end every trouble forever, but that we can endure those that arise. Not that we’ll never be defeated, but that defeat need never define us. Not that we’ll get all we ever want, but that we can hope for better days, for the abundance of enough, for grace and peace to surround and inspire us. Only those who struggle can hope. Problems don’t prohibit you, they qualify you. 

So if you’re hurting, believer that hope is waiting. You can claim it, can be made confident because of it. That’s not na├»ve. That’s faithful. That’s loving yourself, as God love you.

Also, since I’m writing this, well…Go Cubs.

Grace and Peace,

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