By Father John Bullock
November 4th, 2008
The major financial crisis and increased unemployment, state budget cuts , ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and cultural wars about the meanings of life and marriage being continuously debated leave one, well... concerned, deflated or even depressed. Then someone comes along and says, "Don't worry, there's hope!" Your response might be a slightly skeptical, "Oh yeah, in what?"
That's a good question.
The Enlightenment said that we should hope in man's reason. All evils and injustices can be traced back to ignorance. So, if we educate people, the evils should dissipate. However, the immensely violent 'Reign of Terror' of the French Revolution enacted by the very proponents of that salvific reason discredited their own theory.
In the 19th Century, man placed his hope in science. Technology, also a fruit of man's reason, would gradually solve our problems: diseases would be cured and general living conditions would be greatly improved. Yet, the Mustard Gas of the trenches in the First World War as well as the gas chambers in the Second World War, showed that technology - neutral in itself - could make man more efficient either for good or for evil.
Simultaneously, Karl Marx's promise to end economic and political oppression by the bourgeoisie and usher in a proletariat paradise through class warfare died under the heel of Stalin's boot with approximately 50 million dead in the name of progress.
So in what do we place our hope? In Jesus Christ.
So, if Christianity is so great, why are things such a mess after 2000 years? What benefit has Christ brought us? Christ brought us God. Christ never promised an automatic end to suffering and pain in this life. Quite the opposite, he promised his followers that there would be wars, famines and persecutions (cf Mt 13: 5-11) (cf. p. 44, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI).
But that still raises the question: what good is a God who changes nothing in this life? Is Marx's accusation true that religion is opium of the masses: having believers live in the hope of heaven, but putting up with injustices in this life and doing nothing about them? Christ does change something. He changes you... if you want. Christ offers us union with God, in this life and the next. This union with God is the gift for which we were created. God becomes the foundation of one's life, and you are only as firm as the foundation upon which you stand. But this God is also a personal God, who does much more than simply set the clock, which is our universe, in motion. He is a God who loves us and his love is faithful. It is upon this faithful love which we can always hope.
This knowledge of a faithful God motivates the Christian to work for a better world. That's because God's faithful love not only gives me hope, but the freedom to love. This freedom comes from the certainty that we have first been loved. Furthermore, God insists that we love one another as he has loved us (cf. Jn 13:34). It is then precisely God's insistence that we love that keeps the Christian deeply involved in making this world a better place: William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr. and Teresa of Calcutta are just some examples.
It doesn't mean that Christians have been without error or sin in the past; we are a Church comprised of sinners. However, it is again that faith in a loving God that makes us turn to him for forgiveness. God generously forgives us, which gives us confidence, yet this is combined with an insistence that we are holy, just as God is (cf. Mt 5:48). This relationship with God continuously challenges us to grow to be ever more Christ-like. This effort, which isn't easy, comes with the promise of God's help, and that is encouraging.
So, should we hope in troubled times? Yes, thanks be to God.