Hope against the past record

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Royals are terrible this year. A quick look at the AL standings for the past 30 years leaves no question that this is the norm, that this is the way of things for this team. Playoffs? World Series? Those are anomalous events. A reasonable person would have tossed those seasons out when projecting what the team will do this year, and would do the same next year, and the year after that, knowing that there is no reason for hope, no reason to expect success. Just as a sensible fan of the Yankees has reason for grave disappointment when their team doesn't make it into the playoffs, and reason for some satisfaction when they do, a sensible Royals fan has reason for over-the-top joy when their club makes the playoffs, and no reason for disappointment when they don't.

Fans, however, are not reasonable. Season after season, against evidence and with great hope, fans of the worst teams hold on to their hope that this is the year that things will turn around; this is the year when the ball will bounce our way. As much as we tell ourselves that there is no reason for optimism, we are still disappointed when the real world comes knocking.

Christians also hope against the past record of things, but with actual reason for our optimism. Christians, as a group, do not get better jobs than non-Christians, do not have better health, do not have greater popularity, and so forth. Faithful Christians suffer disappointment, loss and hardship. In fact, Christians, as a group, are very often on the losing end of things in life, with many around the world, even today, suffering persecution and living in worse conditions than they might otherwise were they not followers of Christ. It would be reasonable to expect that a group with God on its side would find itself in better circumstances than it does. The question is this, then: if Christians are not in better circumstances than others, or at least in line for better circumstances, then what good is this Jesus? Why follow a loser like him, who gave himself in service to others and got himself killed for it?

The Apostle Paul knew these objections well, and he embraced them. He says this in his second letter to the people of Corinth in Greece: “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (ESV) Christians are no less subject to breakage than anyone else, but this is for a reason: it is in our weakness that God is shown to be strong, that the victory over sin and death belongs to him, and not to us. Paul goes on to speak about how he and others who are sharing the good news about Jesus are afflicted, perplexed, and persecuted. Those who have been made into sons and daughters of God through Christ also share in the death he died — but that is not where things end. We, Paul reminds us, also have Jesus’ life “manifested in our mortal flesh” (ESV) — that is, we have Christ, who was killed but who was raised back to life, in us and with us as his brothers and sisters, and that life keeps on going even when our bodies no longer can.

For while a fan has no idea what the future holds, Jesus’ people know that he is there already, that he will raise to life those who have died as his people, life that will not end. We cannot see it now, but we know for certain that this is on the way. Thus, while Christians in no way enjoy their hardships and troubles, they do not see them as things that mean that God is against them, or that there is no God. No, we know instead that God is present through the good and the bad, and that he will not leave us losers in the end, but will instead show his power even through that weakness and loss. Jesus does not promise that this life will be better; what he does promise is that this life is not the only one, that he is our life that cannot end, and that he invites, through us, all the others in the world who are hoping in hope to share in our hope in him.

Do you think you’re a loser because you’re not a winner? Take heart, for Jesus came for the losers of the world, those who know that their team isn’t going to win. He came to give something better than a pennant, a medal, or a trophy — he came to give life and light, even in the greatest darkness. Jesus has hope even for the hopeless. Jesus is hope for you.