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The Journey of Lent
This is the first full week of Lent, and as such it is time for my first blog post using our devotional God Is On the Cross. This devotional is a compilation drawing from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and conveniently placed into 40 nugget-sized devotions for our use.
Each week, for the 5 full weeks of Lent, I will choose one of those “nuggets”, and let my mind wonder a bit! My hope is that you will find these posts of some use as you continue your own journey of Lent. Please feel free to respond, give insight, or simply share what you’re thinking or feeling. Below is my first post:
(From the First Monday of Lent, pages 12-13)
“A faith that does not hope is sick. It is like a hungry child who will not eat or a tired person who will not sleep. As certainly as people believe, so certainly do they hope. And it is no shame in hoping, in hoping boundlessly. Who would even want to talk of God and not hope? Who would want to talk of God without hoping one day to see him? …And why should we be ashamed of our hope? We will one day have to be ashamed, not of our hope, but of our miserable and anxious hopelessness that trusts nothing to God, that in false humility does not grasp where God’s promises are given, that is resigned to this life and cannot look forward to God’s eternal power and glory. The more people dare to hope, the greater they become with their hope-if it is hope only in God and his sole power. Hope abides.”
“The Church is the place of unshakable hope.”
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
The kind of hope described above seems rebellious, almost scandalous, to me. As my father would say, it is the “nevertheless” kind of hope, and it reminds me of my favorite Psalm:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.(Psalm 46: 1-3)
Like Christianity itself, to have hope or faith (Bonhoeffer argues you can’t have one without the other), in the face of the surrounding realities is counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, is simply counter to reason. It is, by it’s very nature, rebellious.
In today’s world, with 24-hour news eager to report the craven nature of things, the easiest thing would be to lose hope, to give into the powers and principalities and simply accept that this is as good as it gets. If it is easy for us to do that today, consider how easy it would have been for Bonhoeffer in the run up to World War II.
After years of economic depression, Bonhoeffer witnessed the church that he loved betray its faith for national pride and the promise of economic prosperity. As the years wore on, he watched German Jews lose position in government, have their business boarded up, and eventually be marched off to the concentration camps. He watched the world turn a blind eye to the atrocities being committed. As he became more and more convinced of the evil of his time, he rebelled further and further, even participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The plot failed, and Bonhoeffer found himself in prison. And yet…still…nevertheless…Bonhoeffer wrote of faith and hope even there.
Though the earth gives way, and the mountains fall, though the waters roar and the mountains quake…nevertheless…hope. Hope is rebellious. It is “in spite of” present circumstance. Some of the most hopeful songs we sing in church today come from the genre of liberation theology. Slaves, after generations in captivity, having never tasted the sweetness of freedom themselves, wrote songs of hope like There is a Balm in Gilead and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. The essential claim of these songs was that their present misery could not be all there was. They expected, hoped for, and believed in something more.
So did Bonhoeffer, and so must we. I know it’s not easy. A good friend of mine had the Jeremiah Scripture listed above on his kitchen counter. He believed those words, that God had plans for him that were good, not bad. He believed those words even when he was diagnosed with cancer. He believed those words even until the day that he died just 15 months later, two years ago this past Friday. And, I’m willing to bet that if we could ask him today, he would believe those words more fully than he ever did before. But, in our limited view, sometimes all we can see is the bad and the evil, and so we lose hope.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging at Flossenburg concentration camp on April 9, 1945. Just two weeks later, American forces liberated that camp. Bonhoeffer never lost hope, and though he did not make it to the end, he was right. Good triumphed over evil. Better things were to come for his people. Some people consider his life tragic. But, would it not have been infinitely more tragic if he had chosen to give in, chosen not to rebel, and lived a life void of hope?
Hope abides. It is the active element of our faith that stands up to the world and screams, “No!” In this season of Lent, as we confess our sins before God with contrite hearts, we must never believe that our sins are more powerful than God’s ability and desire to forgive. Regardless of your present pain or suffering, God promises over and over again that this is not all there is, that although our limited vision might not always glimpse the Kingdom, nevertheless, it is there….