December 5, 2013
Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar, says that Israel’s experiences of pain as recorded in the Old Testament are answered by God’s actions. He hears their cries of pain and responds. Hope in ancient Israel was expressed by “the relentless insistence that social hurt is not permanent, that oppression is not for perpetuity” (Old Testament Theology: Essays on Structure, Theme, and Text, 7). Israel believed that God would change things abruptly (“an inversion of circumstances”). It is a radical idea—that the present is not permanent and that there is genuine hope for the future. Things will change because God will change them. It was an optimism based on the intervention of God into human history. His kingdom would come and it would last forever. The kingdom of God has come in Christ, and will be consummated when he comes again.
The lesson for us is that the pain and hurt of persecution, which can be experienced in many ways (physical abuse, social ostracizing, harassment, oppression), is not the final word. As Christians endure the worst that the enemy can give, we are aware that their day is coming when all pain will cease and all things will be made right.
A major part of this hope is the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the promise that we too will be resurrected from the dead. That is a glorious hope, but it is also a sustaining, a strengthening, and a comforting. Our bodies may be killed but they will not remain dead. We will receive a new and glorious resurrection body—a spiritual body. Richard Wurmbrand remarks:
"Paul's belief in God, and his confidence in resurrection, and his hope in eternal fellowship with Christ, did not produce a life of comfort and ease that would have been satisfying even without resurrection. No, what his hope produced was a life of chosen suffering. Yes, he knew joy unspeakable. But it was a "rejoicing in hope" (Romans 12:12). And that hope freed him to embrace sufferings that he never would have chosen apart from the hope of his own resurrection and the resurrection of those for whom he suffered. If there is no resurrection, Paul's sacrificial choices, by his own testimony, were pitiable." (The Triumphant Church, 43).
The Christian hope is categorically different from the skepticism and pessimism of the world. It is also categorically different from those idealists who think that society will get better only through social and economic means, through human ingenuity regardless or instead of the help of God. It is hard for them, I would think, to remain optimistic in the present situation in the world. The Christian optimism is based not on the temporal events of this world, which seem increasingly cruel and barbaric, but on the final defeat of evil and the restoration of justice only found in Christ Jesus.
For the Christian, hope is in Jesus Christ, who was, and is, and is to come (Revelation 1:8). He is the only hope for all humankind—the ONLY hope. He is someone you can count on, especially when it appears that all is lost and the world thinks it is crushing our lives and spirits. Evil will, in fact, be crushed, and righteousness will prevail.
For that reason we are greatly encouraged and we have realistic hope, even in the face of persecution.
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.