Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what is seen?
But if we hope for what we do not see,
we wait for it with patience.
This week in Melbourne there was a gathering of scientists at a conference with the ominous title “Four degrees of more”. Why ominous? Because despite the agreement made at Copenhagen and reaffirmed in Cancun by world leaders, to seek to limit the rise in the average global temperature by less than 2 degrees Celsius, based on current inaction and trends it is more than likely that by the end of this century the rise will have been 4 degrees or more.
Even at a rise of 2 degrees Celsius there are significant global impacts but a sobering thought coming out of the conference “suggested that Australia, the world's sixth largest food exporter, may no longer be able to feed itself.” (http://nothing-new-under-the-sun.blogspot.com/)
In March of 2009 Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Chair of the German Scientific Advisory Council, advisor to the German Chancellor and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said that on a four degree world the planet’s “carrying capacity estimates [are] below one billion people.” (http://nothing-new-under-the-sun.blogspot.com/) That is to say that if the temperature raises by 4 degrees the world may only be able to sustain the life of one billion people as opposed to the current nearly 7 billion people now living.
These kinds of ominous warnings and statements combined with other pressing concerns like overpopulation, peak oil, pollution, the destruction of the oceans, poverty, economic crises and, wars and unrest can seem overwhelming.
Growing up in the 1970s and the early 1980s with the spectre of the Cold War looming large in my thinking I can remember having a sense of impending doom in which I believed I would not live to see my 18th birthday let alone to until the ripe old age of 42 which I am today.
The reality is that we are facing difficult times as human beings yet in each new age we face a variety of challenges. Whilst here in Australia we may not be feeling the impacts of the dire warnings about the effects of climate change or any of these other issues yet that does not mean we will remain immune.
This brings me back to a question raised when reading Paul’s letter to the Romans about hope. How do we as Christian people live with hope in this context?
The Nicene Creed helps to paint a picture of hope for us. “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
The promise of God in Jesus, according to Paul, is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through who we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” This peace that we have been given has been given through Jesus’ own life, death and resurrection and gives to each one of us the promise of our personal resurrection which shapes our life as Christians. Yet it is not simply our own resurrection that we hope for but the renewal of all things, that is to say, “the life of the world to come.” Salvation is both very personal as well as entirely universal, for the creation which groans in longing.
The personal side of our relationship with God, its intimacy and its closeness, is expressed beautifully in the words of Psalm 139 which we heard today and which bear repeating:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
In the context of all that occurs within our lives and the world around us God knows us: personally, intimately, and completely, and God cares for us, even despite our opposition and rejection of God and God’s love. God hems us in not to trap us but to enfold us in his loving embrace. This is good news that we can hold on to even when we face the cold unknown journey of death.
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
There is no where that we go that God is not with us and our hope is in Jesus who has traversed the very pathway into death and come through to the other side. This is a hope we cannot see nor I suspect fully grasp the significance of, but it is our hope.
Yet this personal gift of grace, the intimate knowledge that God carries of us and God’s will to redeem us also takes place in the broader context of God’s will for all things.
Paul’s letter to the Romans draws us into a deeper reflection on our place in the world.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
When Paul expressed the notion of the groaning of the creation there can be no doubt that he could not foresee how important these words would be in the 21st century.
The creation is groaning but from Paul’s perspective the groans are labour pains and point to a future renewal of all that God has made.
The correlation between our personal struggles in life, our health issues, our moral decisions, our spiritual aridity and the groaning of the world are clearly linked in Pauls’ mind. We hope for what we do not see – a resurrected life in a perfected world.
This, however, does not mean that we live with disregard to our present existence and the creation which God made and declared as good. Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that they owe God to live by the Spirit of God which has set them free.
We have a purpose and meaning in life which points to a future yet to come but we live now, faithfully present in the world, witnessing to that future which we are promised by living as we are enabled and empowered to by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We live as people of hope liberated from fear of being unknown and set free from the bonds of our consumerist culture which seeks to exploit the very last drop of every resource of the creation for the benefit of the privileged few, among which we in the West must admit we are numbered.
As we face this present age I believe our challenge is recover our hope, our hope that God does know us and care for us, our hope that God has redeemed us and has a future in store for the whole the creation, our hope in things that we do not see but can embraced as forming our way of living.
On this day may you find hope in the good news that you are not anonymous but our known intimately by God and may you share this gift of intimate knowing by loving others so they too understand that they are known. May also you find a sense of God’s concern for the future of all things and live in the groaning creation with respect and concern for all that God has made. And may God bless you this day and evermore.