The story is told that a financially comfortable North American went to visit a mission church that was located in the village dump in a city in Africa. Wondering, he shadowed the pastor for much of the day until he finally burst out and said, “Where is your hope?” He could find no tools with which the pastor could work, no materials with which he could build, no food that he could pass on to the poverty-stricken people. “Where is your hope?”
To the man’s utter astonishment, the local pastor responded with an enormous smile and brilliantly bright eyes. “My hope is Jesus Christ,” he confidently asserted, and he went on the rest of the day showing how that could be the case.
Like the visitor, most of us living in North America can’t imagine how the African pastor could find hope in the terrible situation in which he worked. In fact, his location seems dangerous to the extreme. All sorts of diseases are rampant in a dump. People can get cut by the glass shards lying hidden there. Infections follow soon after. How can anyone find hope in such a situation?
That is why we have to pay careful attention to the pastor’s language. He didn’t say that he found hope in that situation. Rather, he lived so joyfully because his hope was Jesus Christ.
I’ve been writing and thinking about the nature of hope these days because at the moment there are so many disasters all over the United States. Monstrous tornadoes, torrential floods throughout the Mississippi basin, and now, starting in Montana because of the historic amounts of melted snow, severe droughts in other parts of the country — all these make for an enormous number of people displaced and homeless.
Our natural tendency in the United States is to turn first to our human abilities to fix things. We begin planning how to solve the problems, assembling the materials we need, calling in the builders that the jobs require, and organizing the kinds of projects that can take care of the gargantuan needs.
The only problem is that the mess is too massive. A collection of little jobs will not restore the thousands of homes, cars, and fields that have been devastated. The ruination in many sections of the country will necessitate a complete overhaul.
One of the really good things that has come out of this multiplication of crises is that more and more people are winding up thankful to have their lives. They are discovering, in the losses of their homes and all their possessions, that what matters most is to still be alive.
Oh, how I wish we could take them one step further. Over the last few decades, so many people in the United States have be come Christians in name only. How I pray that more of those who lose everything and are grateful for their lives will also recognize from whom their lives came and seek a relationship with God. Could we get to the heart of the faith of that African pastor and be able to say, “My hope is Jesus Christ”?
The difference in meaning is colossal. If we simply hope for a newly rebuilt home, we can run into all sorts of troubles that hinder our ambitions. Then, if truth be honestly told, we won’t be completely satisfied very long with the home that we have anyway.
If our hopes are to restore certain valued possessions, we will discover the same truth. Nothing will ever mean as much to us as it once did. We will find ourselves chasing after the wind. Verily, the prophet in Ecclesiastes told us rightly: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity (1:2b).”
No matter what our hopes are — if they are human hopes — we will wind up dissatisfied in some direction or another. The only hope that can ultimately fulfill our desires is Jesus Christ.
The pastor in Africa was jubilant about his faith because he knew that Jesus Christ was just what he needed. Our problem here in North America is that we have too many other things. We start to rely on our abilities, our skills, our ingenuity — and that is only a quick step to relying on our possessions, our “stuff,” our money, our investments. It seems to be only within the range of a few special “holy” people to be able to depend entirely on Jesus Christ for everything.
Why does it have to be this way? Could it instead be imaginable that we in wealthier countries could give up our pretensions? Would it be a possibility that we could give up our confidence in ourselves, in our own abilities, and in our own “stuff” so that we could put our trust in the only One who is worthy to have our hope, even more to be our hope?
Might it really be possible for us to learn to depend entirely on Jesus Christ?