Measured hope. As a Christian the essence of my faith is hope. That is what resurrection is, hope. When Jesus was killed by the Romans on a Cross, the way political enemies of the state were put to death, everyone thought that hope was dead. But it wasn’t, God had other plans. The surprise ending to this story was Jesus’ appearance to the women, to the disciples running out of town, appearing as a stranger, appearing in a mysterious and strange form, but appearing in hope. The early church had hope because Jesus’ resurrection was a demonstration that living in faith begets life and that life is eternal.
So in the early church persons will illnesses, terminal illnesses, diseases, were not shunned or judged to be sinners, rather they were embraced, care for, healed, if not to better health, then to a good death. As Rodney Stark writes in The Rise of Christianity the early church grew and grew because those whom the state and religion gave up on found a home, literally, in the church. Despite the stigma and the illegality of being a Christian in that time the church grew and eventually the state would take note of this and make Christianity the state religion. The church has been living with that accommodation since the year 300 AD.
But if hope is the essence of Christian faith how do we measure that hope when a person is lost and hurting and hopes for a reality that appears beyond their reach? Is it fair to say to someone who wants X that s/he will find X with faith and new life when we know in our heart that X may be a bit much to hope for? Is it better in those circumstances to subtly suggest lowering one’s sights just a tad and working for a more realistic outcome? Or is that setting our sights too low, short-changing the Gospel of hope? I think we Christians struggle with this tension, I know I do!
I have found myself saying to the person who calls themselves lost and is hoping for a grand liberation and new life that s/he can certainty hope for what they call new life but it may be best to start small and work up. I don’t want to deny or undercut a person’s hope in a miracle but I also don’t want to overpromise and thus lead them to disappointment. I find myself encouraging small steps and cheerleading every step of this new path. I find I am most authentically present to the other when we are moving slowly and purposefully in a positive direction, no matter how small the steps or marginal the change.
Still I know that I am a Christian and we live for and in hope so miracles and liberation are always possible. I don’t want to snuff out a person’s hope in something large and transformative. I know this can happen, even if the odds do not look strong. I have found myself resting in this notion of measured hope, a hope of small steps, of victories celebrated and built upon.
Is this the right approach? I don’t know, but with faith and prayer I move forward confident that in holy conversation I will learn what I need to, in the spirit of humility, to be the best support I can be to those who are struggling.