January 2015 (2): is there hope for the world?

There is a feeling around that the world is not getting better. Human violence and hate, the Ebola epidemic, natural disasters, poor or corrup government, lack of respect for public property, and so on… these all add up to create a sense of loss. The world is going to the dogs! But is it, really? None of these things are new, after all. Part of the problem is that we know more about them now, through electronic media. Television and the Internet bring images into our homes that previous generations did not have to deal with. Another part of the problem is that we have lost confidence in our governments and leaders; based on events of the last fifty years or so, we don’t think they have the ability to bring a better world into being, and instead we see increasing fragmentation within nations, states and cities. The world seems to be run for the benefit of wealthy individuals and companies, who profit from (and even perpetuate) this situation. It seems hopeless.

One way for individuals to respond to all this used to be to turn to religion. It can supply hope for the better, and answers for many of the ills listed above, but (and I say this even though this is a church website) it is not a sufficient response to them. The reason is that religion begins as a human response to the presence of divinity. Religion is not itself divine; it is a human response, and is therefore prone to suffer from all the same ills. It is meant to facilitate a better relationship between humans and God (however perceived within a particular religion), but often ends up being the cause of more suffering and division instead. This seems to be hopeless too, and since Western society no longer demands our participation in religion, we don’t bother.

So is there any hope for the world? Maybe we will be rescued - but historical encounters between the advanced civilisations of this world, and the more primitive ones, haven’t worked out well for the primitive ones - so we should not hold out any hope for an alien invasion to save us, assuming faster-than-light travel is possible somehow.

There is hope, nevertheless. Of course there is! Existence hasn’t failed us just because we have made a poor attempt of living together. The proliferation of life on this planet, even allowing for several great extinctions in the remote past and one in the present, suggests that life will continue. "Where there’s a will there’s a way", so they say. If we look beyond the world and beyond religion, we find hints about the mystery which gives rise to them both.

Existence is somehow wrapped up in being and will, concepts that we struggle to grasp, but which taken together we label ‘God’. It’s not really a good enough label, but whenever we encounter something that is beyond our understanding, and then try to explain what has happened, we run up against the limitations of language. We make up words to serve as shorthand for things we cannot describe, and use current concepts as approximations. We might sound like someone from 2000 years ago trying to describe electricity. This is the encounter with divinity - and how religion begins. But let’s focus on God, not religion.

Something special happened in the world when Jesus came. Christians believe he was both God and human at once, and give him the title ‘Christ'. The language of Scripture fails to spell out the details as we would wish, and religion carried out in his name hasn’t been perfect, but there is another saying: “If at first you do not succeed, try, and try again.” It cannot be denied that people acting in his name changed the world, and some of it was good. So today there are some who meet together to remember Jesus as he asked us to, and to try to live his way, hoping that in doing this, the world will be changed for the better again, bit by bit. The lonely can find company and care, and those who suffer can be heard and helped. This happens in mundane ways, because we are all called to give of ourselves, to be Christ for others. Being Christ for others is not so much religion as a way of life.

So is there hope for the world? Of course there is! It lies within our hearts, put there as part of our existence, by Existence itself: God. It is called by another of those mysterious labels: ‘love’.

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.