We've seen an increasing number of mass shootings in the United States recently (353 in 2015, so far), not to mention attacks in places like Paris, Nigeria and Mali. When we find out about the latest violence, it can be tempting to shake our heads and long for the day when believers in Jesus get to escape this world and live for all eternity in heaven where there is no pain or tears.
The problem is, that viewpoint is completely antithetical to what the Christian scriptures teach.
The Bible teaches that Christ followers are supposed to engage in the world, not escape from it.
Let me make a quick case for what I just said.
Jesus prays a prayer for everyone who will ever believe in him that is recorded by the apostle John in chapter 17 of his Gospel:
"I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.They do not belong to this world any more than I do...Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world." (John 17:15-16, 18)
You no longer belong to this world when you follow Jesus, but you are sent into the world.
Your goal is not to escape, or even to just exist. You have been sent. That means you have a reason, a purpose, a mission.
That purpose, Jesus explains, is to live in a way that points people toward the understanding that God loves them so much that he would send Jesus to this world.
As N.T. Wright says, we are not saved from the world, we are saved for the world.
God's original purpose for choosing Abraham was so that the world would be blessed through Abraham. In Romans 11:17, Paul explains how we are part of the family of Abraham once we accept the salvation of the Messiah.
God has promised to set all the wrongs in our world to right. His method includes restoring a people, men and women, who are fulfilling the purpose for which we were created: to care for this world and to be a conduit of God's blessing for the people in the world.
Your job is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In moments of despair, that means pointing towards hope.
How could any sane person have hope in the knowledge that these mass shootings are likely to continue, and could possibly escalate?
Let's start with the fact that God has promised to make all things in our world new again.
Everything broken and corrupt and decayed in our world will be remade, restored and renewed. Violence and hate will no longer exist in the hearts of men and women.
That world, obviously, doesn't exist yet.
So God has given me the ability to have hope for that reality.
Hope is a fascinating idea. God has given us the ability to believe in something which hasn't happened yet, even something for which we may have no proof.
God gives us this ability because we need it in order to trust in God's promises.
The only way we can believe in the world with no evil is if we can have hope in God.
In fact, Paul writes, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
Hoping in God means trusting in God.
Trusting in God means that we are patient and confident that what he has promised, he will accomplish.
When you have this hope, you will act on it.
If the world is going to hell in a handbasket, why help people in need? Why care about the environment? Because if God promises to renew the world, it's worth our time and effort, for nothing will be wasted in the coming arrival of the kingdom.
We have a small number of people in our world who wish to instill terror in the lives of people who don't agree with them - be it regarding religious view, political views, or personal disagreements.
I believe that people do this out of despair. If the world can't be what I want it to be, I will get angry about it and that will lead to violence.
There's a powerful solution to despair. It's called hope.
Let those of us who are choosing to hope in the future God promises be willing to share that hope.
Let's be hope-ists.
Showering and spreading hope even in the bleakest of situations and circumstance, because if God can raise Jesus from the dead, there's nothing which is beyond hope in our world.
Summing up, here is how to be a hope-ist:
- Trust in God - not yourself or other people.
- Be patient and confident as you wait for fulfillment of God's promise
- Accomplish what Jesus sent you out into the world to accomplish - spreading the Good News of God's great love.
Let us pray for victims of terrible attacks, and let us proactively work to share the message of hope which is far from being foolish in moments like this - it is God's method for leading toward the promised future he is creating.