Thursday, April 19, 2018

"If in this life only we have hope..."

The correct perspective:
The unmistakable emphasis of the teaching of the New Testament...is that our hope is not in the present world but in a new world, which although it is breaking into this world in the life of the Christian community is only to be fulfilled and consummated in the future. "If in this life only we have hope," says St. Paul to the Corinthians, "we are of all men the most miserable." As J.B. Phillips has pointed out, modern Christian thought has almost completely reversed the priority of the New Testament. We have sought to justify God, his kingdom, and his grace, by showing how useful he can be in the solution of our earthly problems. The New Testament authors look at things just the other way around. This world, as they see it, is important because it affords opportunities for those decisions, those acts of faith, those commitments which constitute our participation in the life of the eternal kingdom of heaven. .... The Christian view of the future is not some irrelevant addition to the Christian story, a kind of postscript without which the story would nevertheless be whole and intact. If there is no resurrection of the dead then, as St. Paul saw, Christian preaching is empty and Christian faith a mockery.

.... Christian hope consists in the expectation that what we already know and have experienced in part will be crowned and brought to fulfillment. It means both having and not having at the same time. It creates a mood of deep confidence within a tension of almost unbelievable severity. We can bear the burden of the flesh—the sharp struggle within us of our old selves and of the Spirit who is the principle of the new life—because we have a reasonable and holy hope. It is reasonable because we see enough in Christ's resurrection and in our own rescue from despair to know the divine power. It is holy because it has no other ground but the divine mercy and love. ....

The mood of Christianity is often likened to that of an army who, although many hard battles remain to be fought, have seen in one decisive encounter where the preponderant power really lies. At some crucial point with all the advantage on his side the enemy has nevertheless been defeated, and so the final issue is no longer really in doubt. This is not an excuse for complacency, but it is an antidote to despair. The resurrection of their Lord seemed to the early Christians to be this kind of encounter, and without it, and the confidence and new principle of life which it released, Christianity would never have been born at all. The mood is not at all one of complacency but rather one of energetic attack inspired by the confidence that no labor is in vain in the Lord. The Christian is not indifferent to the historic consequences of his decisions and actions, but when such consequences are disappointing, when "hopes deceive and fears annoy," the perspective of the world to come enables him to go on doing the wisest and the best he can. ....
John M. Krumm, Modern Heresies, Seabury, 1961, pp. 165-169.