by Scott MacKay (Manawatū Team Leader)

In a fascinating doctoral project, Matthew Westerholm analysed the eschatology of the 100 most-sung CCLI worship songs. The conclusion: contemporary Christian music reinforces the belief that the kingdom of God is right here, right now, and it feels good. Whereas older hymns contained a balance between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’, Westerholm noted themes that “have almost completely disappeared: death, revival, confession, anxiety, and pilgrimage (to a better location).” 1

Arguably, we are being shaped by a spirituality of the here and now. But at the same time, our world is desperate for hope. We want a message about the future. We want to know things can get better. Our broader culture is currently experiencing increasing angst and uncertainty. Economic pressures, the increasing polarisation and tribalisation of Western societies, the impact of social media, the rise of AI, global political instability, all of these are contributing to a growing sense of unease in our generation. Is there any hope?
How can we speak hope into a hopeless world? We need a gospel which addresses reality. We need a genuine hope that is robust in the face of uncertainty and even despair.

One part of the Bible which explores the dynamics of hope and despair with incredible courage is the book of Job. This deep exploration of human longing has an underlying gospel shape.

Of what does genuine hope consist? The three cycles of speeches (Job 3-13, 14-20, 21-27) roughly cover three dimensions of hope:

Firstly, hope involves believing there is someone who hears my complaint and cares about our concerns.

In the first cycle of speeches, Job lurches from hope to despair (chs 3-13). In the spaces between his deep agony, he hatches a plan to bring his complaint before God. However, Job is terrified at the idea of facing a God who is so unpredictable, at least based on his current experience. But despite this uncertainty, he forges ahead in the belief that God will listen to his cry.

As Christian readers, we hear the unmistakable echoes of Jesus’ suffering: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death”.2 Jesus understood from the Hebrew Scriptures the reason for his situation. Yet he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.3 What does this mean? If the very Son of God can utter such words, then God is clearly comfortable with us expressing our pain and confusion. In fact, the incarnation shows us a God who is so filled with compassion for us that he was willing to identify with our sorrow at the deepest level.

Christopher Luxon recently claimed New Zealand has become a “wet, whiny, inward-looking country”. Whether or not Kiwis do complain too much (I’ll leave that assessment to the reader), the Scriptures help us to see that our hopelessness, despair and grumbling can’t just be suppressed. It needs to turn into lament. In fact, the distinction between grumbling and lament is crucial in the Scriptures. Israel grumbled about God in the wilderness because they didn’t believe God himself would listen to their cry. But the saints take their complaint directly to God, because they are convinced that God does listen to the cry of the downcast.

Secondly, hope involves believing there is someone who can do something about my situation, even when I cannot.

In the second cycle of speeches, Job looks around for support in his seemingly hopeless cause (chs. 14-20). Who will mediate between him and God? Who will advocate for him? Abandoned by his friends, and with no one to fight for him, he looks to a heavenly advocate who will take up his cause and fight for him. Remarkably, Job somehow believes that this advocate-redeemer will have the power to vindicate him even after his death, and that he will be enabled to see that vindication with his own eyes (ch. 19). It is essentially a hope of resurrection.

The defeat of death is a uniquely Christian hope. It should be something we celebrate frequently. A Chinese student shared with me her impressions of the Royal funeral last year. She was surprised by the consistent note of hope throughout the service, compared to the completely bleak and mournful funerals she had experienced in her home country. In particular, she was struck by the reading from First Corinthians, which the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth performed with such gravitas:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.4

Christian hope is not the vague sense that things may get better. It is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus, who is now reigning until he puts all enemies under his feet. Christian hope still works even if my current situation gets worse and if the world all around me is falling apart. It is secure because Christ has been raised.

Thirdly, hope involves believing that the Almighty will one day bring a resolution to the chaos and injustice I observe in the world.

The third cycle of speeches in the book of Job raises the problem of God’s seeming indifference to the causes that we feel most strongly about (chs 21-27). Why does God seem to stand idly by when there is so much chaos around me? Surely the Most High sees and cares about the cause of the vulnerable and the needy? Believers hold on to the conviction that God will bring the wrongs of this world to right and vindicate his people, who long for his appearing.

Paul proclaimed to the philosophers at the Areopagus, “God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”5 Again, it is the events of the gospel in which Christian hope is grounded. There is a day when our longings will be satisfied, and when all things will be made new.

The Christian hope is glorious. But it also must be real. It is a hard-won hope. It is a hope that confronts the tragedies of life, and the doubts of even the most devoted believer. And a hope like that is a hope worth sharing.

1 Westerholm, M. D. (2016). “The hour is coming and is now here”: the doctrine of inaugurated eschatology in contemporary evangelical worship music [Doctoral thesis, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary]. Boyce Digital Repository., p 170.
2 Matthew 26:38 (ESV)
3 Matthew 27:46 (NIV)
4 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (KJV, as per the
funeral service)
5 Acts 17:31 (NIV)