Thinking Anew – Faith is not aimlessly hoping for the best
Some years ago RTÉ broadcast a radio interview with an elderly man who was caring for his wife who was both physically and mentally incapacitated. The interviewer took him through his daily routine – from early morning through to her bedtime when he would finally have an hour or two for himself.
This pattern of life will be familiar to carers, most of whom consider what they do to be a labour of love.
Towards the end of that radio programme, the interviewer having learned the man’s age – he was in his 70s – asked him how he saw the future. He replied: “If you want to make God laugh tell him your plans for the future.”
In tomorrow’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Genesis, Abraham is worried about the future. He had been a very successful leader but is getting old and has no children to carry forward his name or bring to fruition his hopes for his people.
He realises, however, that the future is not in his hands; hoping for something is not enough so he turns to God for help.
On April 3rd,1968, Martin Luther King jnr gave a sermon in Memphis, Tennessee, in support of African-American workers who were being exploited. It would become known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon and included these words: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will and he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain and I’ve looked over. I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
Next day he was assassinated – a reminder that we live in a very nasty world where dreams can be wiped out in an instant. It always has been a nasty world, from the beginning of time, but what is different today is the scale of the problems we face.
Wars once fought with bows and arrows have been replaced with the menace of nuclear annihilation and cyberwar. The peace and justice that every sane person yearns for is threatened by self-serving politicians, cheered on by so-called populists, determined to prove how strong and powerful they are. The planet we live on is in deep trouble and political leaders are reluctant to act decisively for fear of electoral consequences.
People are understandably concerned for their own future and that of their children and grandchildren.
Tomorrow’s epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews begins with these words: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
It explains that Abraham, often referred to as the father of faith, pinned all his future hopes on the promises of God. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.”
It is a simple fact of everyday life that none of us, like Abraham, knows where we are going from one moment to the next; we like to think we are in control but we are not.
Our elderly radio friend knew that only too well when he spoke about making God laugh.
But faith is not simply and aimlessly hoping for the best. Dietrich Bonhoeffer made that clear in his Letters and Papers from Prison: “This is what I mean by worldliness – taking life in one’s stride, with all its duties and problems, its successes and failures, it’s experiences and helplessness. It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly into the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith . . . that is what makes a man and a Christian.”
He not only lived by that faith; he died for it at the hands of his Nazi executioners.