Tens of thousands of children have fled poverty and violence in their Central American homelands and are now caught in a political dispute among the United States populace. They are victims and pawns of systems they are powerless against. Israel continues to bombard Gaza. New sanctions are threatened against an increasingly belligerent Russian government. Iraq is in chaos. Hundreds are stricken with Ebola in Western Africa. And let us not forget Syria which, amidst all of this other news, is still filled with death.
If you are the type of person who takes time to read the type of articles that are on this type of website then you have experienced the paralysis of despair. It probably happened while you were scanning the news one night and you found yourself frozen with fear. Headline after headline assaulted your senses and touched your heart, to the point where you realized you had to stop reading the news – or you would lose hope. Or worse, you found yourself unable to disengage and you devoured dozens of articles with morbid obsession, seeking some understanding, some spark of hope, some hidden key that would be the solution to stop the world from destroying itself before your eyes.
You’ve been there.
But because you are that type of person, you also have had moments where you wept for the hope of peace, the mere mention of the possibility of a whisper of the justice of the Great City, sparkling like a jewel and the nations processing with their gifts into its light which dances in sparkles on the River of Life where the countless victims of history rest on the river’s bank while their tears are wiped eternally away with the leaves of the Tree of Life.
You’ve seen that place.
We should not be surprised at those moments of despair. Too often we naively believe that with 3 easy steps and just the right resources we could make it all disappear. It doesn’t. It won’t.
But neither should we be surprised at those moments when we dream of deep justice, when we weep at the thought of no more weeping. Those visions correspond with a world which is “charged with the grandeur of God.” We should expect to be filled with the hope to endure if indeed we live in a world over which the “Holy Spirit broods with warm breast and with, ah, bright wings.”
These quotes are from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins which gives me great comfort.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Over 100 years ago Hopkins, like us, saw an earth that seemed beyond repair. He lamented the destruction of nature. But with the gorgeous turn of phrase that only a great poet can achieve he writes “And for all this, nature is never spent.” He hopes. He hopes that the God who has sustained the world this far is still caring for it in providence despite so much evidence to the contrary. It was a hope that could only be inspired by faith.
John Calvin said that faith is “a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us.” I think this definition is essential if we are to sustain our work of justice, or sustain even hope itself. It is important to notice what this definition of faith does not say. Faith is not our tireless efforts of justice. It is not the success of our endeavors. It is not witnessing the end of all tragedy in our lifetime. It is a deep confidence that God loves us. That’s it. If we begin to measure ourselves and our world only by what we can see, by what the headlines tell us, then we will despair.
But, ours is a faith that still looks beyond what we can see. We are the people who see that “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Because, every now and then, we believe.
-Dan Carter is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI. www.calvaryreformedholland.org