I study Scripture and preach the gospel for a living. That is, I feed my family, my gas tank, and my retirement account with payment from this line of work. Being such a professional, it is literally my job to give and declare hope. So, because I get paid to give hope, it is logically inconceivable for a man like me to despair of future generations, and to think that this entire world is quickly going down in a fiery blaze of faithless paganism. Yet sometimes I … yes, even I … flatly despair like Elijah in the cave, and hope eludes me.
That happened to me recently. Call it a fog, call it a hard winter, but there are times when the words of hope coming out of my mouth on Sunday start in my brain but bypass my heart altogether like an autopilot flying over the desert. Lots of things can kill my hope: an old friend abandons the confession of his youth; a piece of legislation threatens the autonomy of Christian education; colleagues wring their hands at challenges as they stubbornly maintain astounding levels of mediocrity.
However, without fail, whenever I feel like I’m at my lowest, God graciously and patiently lifts up my chin to see something he has planned. And I suddenly find my old friend that overcomes the darkness: hope.
Recently I was privileged to serve as a judge for an Oratory Contest for the local chapter of Right to Life. A number of high school students from the region participate in a speech contest regarding a life issue (abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, etc.). I typically do this every year at this time, and every year I forget (and am delightfully reminded of) the hope I feel on the drive home afterwards. On this drive, I am always struck by the speeches: young people, in the painful throes of puberty, creating and delivering persuasive speeches on life issues. To greater or lesser extents, they are all authentically indicative of a generation that isn’t going down without a fight. This is just one event that can make my rapidly aging heart sing for joy … and hope.
It shouldn’t happen, really. These young people shouldn’t exist. Teenagers today face different and greater struggles than I did at that age. They are utterly bombarded with competing worldviews, societal hatred, and spiritual rejection at levels that I dodged simply by being born in the 1980’s. For example: I didn’t own a cell phone in high school; yet they walk around with full access to pornography, perversion, and perniciousness in their pockets. My group of teenage peers largely lived and let live; yet it is violently demanded of this generation that they conform to the deluded machinations of beer can marketing and historical reconstructions. I learned early on that hard work and passion would win the day; but teenagers today are told that the color of their skin or social privilege predisposes their successes, failures, and faults. For those with eyes to see, the devil and his minions are working overtime and are not nearly as clandestine about it as they used to be. Teenagers today should be predestined to fail, worshipping the god of self like Narcissus until they drown in their own made up identities. And yet …
There they are. The remnant. The next generation of Christians. And they have hope.
And that gives me hope again.
It’s humbling, really. Because every time I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle by preaching hope, some unlikely source will exhibit that hope and prove to me that hope doesn’t rise or fall on my effort, but on the gracious providence of the Almighty. Yes, too many Christian parents send their kids to the abattoirs of state-run education. But look: here’s a handful of teenagers giving speeches against the evils of abortion and euthanasia. Hope. Yes, most kids would rather bury their heads in a screen than memorize Scripture. But look: here’s a group of eighth graders whom I’ve watched grow up all holding out their hands to receive the sacrament. Hope. Yes, marriage is threatened by the modern aberrations of reality TV. But look: new parents I’ve never even met call me to schedule their child’s baptism, then actually go to church every week. Hope.
Hope is always there, I just get distracted by the trash once in a while. Hope is always there for the taking, sneakily insinuating itself when I least expect it. For me, at least right now, I find it tremendously fitting that hope should be found so surprisingly in the Easter season. Like an angel on a rolled stone while it’s still dark, hope just snuck up and told me not to look for the living among the dead.
And so … I repent of my despair, and I thank God for reintroducing to me an old friend who never disappoints: hope.
Alleluia, Christ is risen.