This semester in chapel we have been looking at the importance of having hope during hard times. Last week, I watched a PBS special about how deregulation policies led to the fall of our economy. The economic experts placed too much confidence in the market to correct itself, and so advocated for a strong separation of state and the economy. This confidence in the market was based on a hope that there were large amounts of money to be made. Greed and a lack of accountability led to fraudulent activity, so we find ourselves in a recession.
God’s intention for His creation, this world and society, is described by the beautiful Hebrew word shalom. It is translated into English by the word “peace,” but it is much more than just the absence of violence. Shalom means flourishing at every level, economically, agriculturally, ecologically, psychologically and spiritually. But this is not a picture of our world and society today, is it? Things are not the way they are supposed to be and the problem doesn’t just lie in global forces that affect the economy. In the early 20th century, the British newspaper The Times invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme "What's Wrong with the World?" One of the invited authors was G.K. Chesterton. He responded:
G. K. Chesterton
As a Christian, I think Chesterton rightly understood that problems of the world lie ultimately within each of us. This resonates with me. When I place other things in my life—even good things like financial security, professional success, my children’s welfare—above God, shalom is broken. My kids resent me when I try to live my life through them. My ministry to college students becomes a means to make a name for myself rather than God. Service becomes self-oriented, a means of justifying my existence rather an overflow of joyful desire to serve God. When we put secondary things in Gods’ place, we become out of tune with God’s intent. We become like instruments in a symphony doing their own thing, rather than following the lead of the conductor. Now, economic, political, social and technological solutions are needed in the world, but the human heart needs to be re-oriented so that the right solutions are applied for the right reasons and in a right manner. Most essentially, we require a spiritual solution.
One of my favorite passages from my Christian tradition that gives me hope for the human condition (especially my own) is found in Hebrews 6:19-20: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever.” Jesus is personified as hope because of two essential roles he plays. One is that of high priest. By his life and death, he paid the penalty we owe for how we have vandalized shalom. In Israel, a high priest would make atonement in the temple for the sins of the people annually. Because this was a continuous cycle had no end, the question remained, “Are my sins forgiven?” But Jesus died for the sins of the world, once for all. God wants us to know that in Christ, we are forgiven and have free access to Him. This brings me levity, because the guilt and burden of my sin is gone. But there is more.
Secondly, Jesus plays the role of forerunner. That is, he has gone before. He is very much like the character Andy Dufrense in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Andy, played by Tim Robbins, befriends another inmate Red, played by Morgan Freeman, in Shawshank prison. Red has been in prison for the majority of his life and he struggles with hope. Andy repeatedly attempts to give Red hope, but he fears hope will let him down. Andy tells Red of his plans of restoring a boat and sailing it in Mexican waters. He tells Red that he will leave a stash of money hidden under a stone in local field. If Red were to make parole, he could pay for the bus fare to Mexico. One day, Andy escapes from prison and eventually crosses the border of Mexico. Andy sends Red a blank postcard, post-marked from a particular border town, letting Red know that he has found freedom. Red finally does make parole and the end of the movie, pictures Red walking down a Mexican beach towards Andy, who is sun-tanned and working on restoring a boat. Andy was Red’s forerunner. The Christian hope is that Jesus is our forerunner. He has conquered death and returned to the Father’s presence. Because he has gone before us, he can guide us, helping live not only without the burden of sin but with hope—a hope that recognizes that the restoration of shalom is at work now, within us and around us, and that this hope will be realized at a future time when shalom will be fully restored when Jesus ushers us into God’s presence. Then, we will flourish at a global level and at a personal level as God intended.