Despair is Not an Option

In the past weeks, the media has bestowed upon the American public an unending dose of information and opinion, decrying incumbents, insurgents, upstarts, and elites. While the truth of our situation is sometimes more daunting than its hyper-version, our voices still claim, “Despair is not an option!”

When I first reflected on the uncertainty and pessimism of recent days, I thought about Jeremiah, who bought a plot of land in a field to which he would not return in his lifetime, as an investment in a better future he knew only through the promise of God. However, being the devout liturgical student that I am, I consulted the lectionary to see if God had a word for us in a text beyond my choosing.

God does not disappoint. The Old Testament reading for this week is from Habakkuk. I know you all cannot contain yourselves from bursting into the songs you learned in Vacation Bible School about this minor prophet. None come to mind? I, too, was at a loss for a single, defining fact about Habakkuk. However, the reading, 1:1-4 and 2:1-4, conveys a longing for justice and a promise from God.

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

          and you will not listen?

Or cry to you ‘Violence!’

          and you will not save?

          Why do you make me see wrongdoing

          and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

          strife and contention arise.

          So the law becomes slack

          and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous—

          therefore judgement comes forth perverted.

I will stand at my watch-post,

         and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,

         and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

         Then the Lord answered me and said:

Write the vision;

         make it plain on tablets,

         so that a runner may read it.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;

         It speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;

         It will surely come, it will not delay.

Look at the proud!

         Their spirit is not right in them

         But the righteous live by their faith.

Habakkuk expresses in the 7th century BCE the very struggles we are facing today, and God responds with a difficult answer. “Write the vision, make it plain… for there is still a vision… it will surely come, it will not delay.” God calls us to persevere, venturing into the void, proclaiming a vision that seems to the world implausible and impossible. But God’s vision does not lie. Jürgen Moltmann, one of the greatest living theologians of modern time, examines the Christian understanding of hope as “the principle of revolutionary openness to the future.” Hope, for Moltmann, looks towards the coming kingdom while sustaining our current joy by creating a “passion for the possible,” and defining the potential for reality. As Christians, our hope manifests itself in the resurrected and returning Christ, causing a change in believers that elicits a desire to seek change in this world.

Moltmann named two forms of sin: “presumption, [the] premature, self-willed anticipation of the fulfillment of what we hope for from God and despair, the premature, arbitrary anticipation of the non-fulfillment of what we hope for from God.” We do not despair because hopelessness is not compatible with Christian living. Christ promised a new heaven and a new earth, a coming creation that is already, but not yet. God, in Habakkuk, tells us the righteous will live by their faith, a faith in the trustworthiness of a God who loves creation. While we wait for the fulfillment of the vision, we continue to enact the possibility of the present, ensuring the mutual well being of our global community. Howard Zinn said, “To be hopeful in bad times is not just hopeless romanticism. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live in defiance of all that is bad around us is itself a marvelous victory.”

Our future is both what we can do and what we will do. Living as Christ taught, we live in God’s vision and embody the hope for a new creation. Despair is not an option.

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