The Worst Thing Is Never the Last Thing
We cannot live without hope.
I typed out this sentence last week when I was preparing the Easter sermon. I spoke the words aloud on Sunday morning. You may remember them.
There is nothing special here. The statement isn’t exactly profound, and I personally have never not believed it. But I also have never believed it more — not more than I do now. Not after being confronted anew by the brokenness of this world; not after seeing the images of its destruction in our country; not after feeling its effects back home in my family.
We cannot live without hope.
It has a new urgency to me. It’s heavier, and more desperate. It’s more relevant.
In the Opioid Diaries I mentioned on Sunday, the hardest part I read in the whole magazine was the description of one user who said that heroin, to her, feels like a “warm hug from Jesus.”
Those were her words. And when I read them, I was stunned, and compelled into a new understanding. Have you ever wondered what a warm hug from Jesus feels like? I have, I think. I’ve thought about it, anyway, about being in his presence, about the peace that seeing his face would bring, about how every joy in this life is just a foretaste of that. We sang it on Sunday:
He shall return in robes of white
The blazing sun shall pierce the night
And I will rise among the saints
My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face
Yet here was this poor neighbor in this true story, some father’s daughter, enslaved to her addiction, saying she couldn’t put away her needles because it makes her feel close to Jesus.
It occurred to me that I was reading the epitome of despair. It's the line of thinking that has determined God will not do what he has said; warm hugs from Jesus are not real; they’re not in my future; and therefore, I might as well get what I can now.
And who can blame her? This is what despair does, after all. It’s an excuse-generator, and it’s consistent — consistently wrong. But here’s the thing: despair rarely lands on someone as full-blown despair. It has to start somewhere hidden, prying its fingers into the cracks we don’t notice, at least not at first.
I mentioned Sunday that the two enemies of hope, according to Jürgen Moltmann, are presumption and despair, but I think there’s actually one more. We’ll call it acquiescence.
It’s the cousin of presumption and despair, except that it’s much more subtle. It’s less an emotion or action, and more a disposition. It’s capitulating to the brokenness; it’s settling for disappointment. It’s the resignation that my hopes will not actually pan out, that promises are empty, that people can’t really be trusted, that there’s always an invisible, negative twist beneath the surface of things. Another word for all this is cynicism.
So then the enemies of hope are presumption and despair, and then acquiescence, which is manifested in cynicism.
I’m just trying to put words to these things, of course. We can’t exactly fact-check this stuff. But it goes something like this. And it’s important for us right now because in our cultural moment cynicism is in vogue. It’s what “all the kids are doing these days,” as it were. And if this is the case, what happens to that hope we can’t live without?
Who will be those people who insist that yes, this world is broken, but that what is broken now will be made new, and that what is good now will only be better? Who will be the ones in our communities who live and speak that the worst thing is never the last thing because the worst thing has already been defeated?
It can only be those who have a living hope . . . through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It’s us.