Are there narratives of “hope” in the times of the COVID- 19 crisis? Even if we pay marginal attention to media and politics, we may notice the near disappearance of ‘a sense of an ending’ to this current atmosphere of hopelessness. Hope is sought after and welcomed in times of pandemic, wars, persecution, economic or political stress. But where and how do we find stories of hope in times and places where it is most needed?
There are narratives around us that offer many a discourse—that human prospects lay in the stars or blind fate or karma. Spinoza contends that our lives are governed by natural necessity. Marx claimed that history was resolved by economic interests. Freud believed that human behaviour was carved by unconscious drives. Others argue that we are governed by genetic codes hardwired into our brains. It is said that the Greeks gave the world the concept of tragedy. And the Judeo-Christian scriptures gave it the idea of hope.
The Bible begins with hope. God creates the world with words. The first word that God spoke was yehi—‘Let there be’. He was setting a ‘future tense’ for us. God’s call is to that which is not yet, and that makes our faith unique.
Another unique moment in Old Testament history is Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush. He asks God what name he should use when people ask him. God replies in a phrase Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, generally translated as ‘I am what (or who, or that) I am’. These are mistranslations. It literally means, ‘I will be what I will be’ or, more fundamentally, God’s name belongs to the future tense.
As we read, the prophets and the apostles were aware of this. Amid ancient anti-hope cultural trends, Isaiah and Jeremiah were persecuted and threatened. Jeremiah says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (29:11). The authors of the Gospels, too, ministered amid violence and hatred. But they left for us classical and enduring witnesses to the positive power of hope. Paul also prays that the believer may “bubble over” with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
A few decades ago, Jürgen Moltmann published the best- known work on the subject—Theology of Hope. He responded to an atheist philosopher E. Bloch for whom hope is ‘transcending without transcendence’—a hope without any reference to God.
Moltmann insisted that it takes transcendence to have a lasting hope. This hope hinges on God, who is the “power of the future”. He is the God who raised the crucified Jesus from the dead and has shown himself to be faithful to his promise, and the accent on the future make much of Jesus Christ, the “resurrected one”. God is the “God of the future”. God is not just beyond us or in us, but ahead of us in the horizons of the future opened to us in his promises. The future must be considered as a mode of God’s being. Because God’s future for us is open, it is new, not merely an extension of the past. Our future is open in God.
To be a believer is to be an agent of hope in a world threatened by the pandemic. Every promise in the Scripture is a protest against escapism, resignation, or the blind acceptance of fate. Throughout history, when people sought hope, they have found it in the Scripture and its narratives built on a ‘future tense’ in God. Jesus is the Hope and our future tense in this season.