Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Something about hope

I don't know about you, but most of the people I hung around with during election season were either opposed opposed to voting and participating in a particular campaign, period, or were really into Barack Obama. One of the things that seemed to appeal was Obama's emphasis on the ability of communities to lift up their heads, see the light at the end of the dark tunnel our nation is apparently in, and begin walking together toward that light hand-in-hand.

I won't lie; I really like that about President Obama. My favorite sociologists and activists are the ones who root their theory and practice in hope. They look around, see the situation for what it is, and don't give you any bullshit about how bad things are. But they also are committed to the belief that there can be a better tomorrow, and the only way to get there is by doing the tough work -- together -- of meeting the challenges that we face.

The biggest problem I have with any of this is that it's not really a Christian way of thinking. It almost is. But, if you believe in the overwhelming reality of the human condition (i.e., sin), then you have to admit that reaching the light at the end of the tunnel is never possible based solely on hard work and determination.

What's missing from this equation is grace. To believe that the sort of message we've been told about hope and possibility is ever attainable without repentance from us and grace from God is to bie into a lie that seems pervasive in the world we find ourselves in.

For example, the prodigal son worked really hard to trudge home after making a lot of mistakes, and he faced his father - probably with some shame, or maybe with sheer selfish desperation - knowing full well that he might not have been let back into the house. Instead, Dad showed him grace and even threw a party for him. That's boundless grace, right there. Dad could have told him to get his sorry ass moving and go back to the pig farm, if he wanted to. But no, that's not the nature of how Dad is. If any of us chose to believe that the happy ending for the son was all because of his own merit, we'd be fools for ignoring the reality of the way in which the story has to work.

Does God honor our hard work? I sure hope so. He encourages us to love our enemies, go out into the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on our back, and conduct miracles in His name by faith. I sure hope He honors that hard work; otherwise, He'll have some explaining to do if I am ever left hanging. Maybe His way of extending grace to us is, when we are at our last straw, providing a way through the problem at hand as a means of teaching us that only He could bring us through in the first place.

I muse on all of this because it is particularly pertinent right now. I've been connecting with a guy recently who struggles with both cocaine addiction and alcoholism. Last night, he told me that "a busy mind makes a free mind", and he clearly meant that if he keeps busy, he's less prone to use and abuse drugs and alcohol. The way he keeps busy is by helping out at the church next door, where I might expect him to show up and receive prayer or some form of handout to help with his condition.

But, no, he recognizes that change can't come by sitting around and twittling your thumbs while waiting for Divine deliverance to happen. And the way in which he keeps busy is by serving others. One of the most broken people I've met (literally, he has plenty of other health issues, too) is allowing Himself to be repaired by serving rather than just receiving service. And, finally, he understands the most important truth of all: that, while he may not see the light of the end of the tunnel now, as Job might not have when everything was taken away from Him, he feels God's presence beside Him as he both proclaims and demonstrates the will to be redeemed. And he knows that, in the end, deliverance is both a possibility and a reality.

A lot of people would look at my friend (who I am intentionally not naming as yet) and say "It would take a miracle for him to change". Well, a miracle implies that the change is at least somewhat dependent on an outside force. I hope and pray for a miracle to happen; what better evidence of God's hand at work than a man healed of addiction and alcoholism, who knows who to give the credit to immediately?

I can't think of anything better than that.

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