Suffering, Disappointment, & Hope in 2016

Finally, all of you should agree and have concern and love for each other. You should also be kind and humble. Don’t be hateful and insult people just because they are hateful and insult you. Instead, treat everyone with kindness. You are God’s chosen ones, and he will bless you.
1 Peter 3:8-9

“In the subsequent years of ministry in England I have often been asked: ‘What is the greatest difficulty you face in moving from India to England?’ I have always answered: ‘The disappearance of hope.’ I believe that everyone who has made the same move will bear me out. Even in the most squalid slums of Madras there was always the belief that things could be improved. One could start a night school, or agitate for a water supply, or establish a ’Young Men’s Progressive Society’. In spite of all the disappointments since independence came in 1947, there was still the belief in a better future ahead.
“ In England, by contrast, it is hard to find any such hope. Apart from those whose lives are shaped by the Christian hope founded on the resurrection of Jesus as the pledge of a new creation, there is little sign among the citizens of this country of the sort of confidence in the future which was certainly present in the earlier years of this century.”
Lesslie Newbigin, The Other Side of 1984

A friend and mentor, Scott Sunquist, wrote an introductory text called Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory. Within the text, Sunquist the historian makes the missiological case that any form of Christian mission will involve suffering on the part of the missionary. After distribution to reviewers, Sunquist immediately noticed two distinct responses to the title and to the book itself. Missiologists from the west were largely affirming of the book, and suggested it could serve as a fine book in many seminaries. Missiologists from the Global South were overjoyed by the title and the text! They passionately informed Sunquist of the deep attraction they had to the book and expressed their gratitude for it. Why? Because he recovered their experience in mission: suffering and glory. No suffering, no mission. And most certainly, no glory.

Over the last several days and weeks, I’ve observed several versions of the same comment from friends and others on social media: “Let 2016 be over with.” Whether it is the deserving opprobrium toward injustice, or the grief from the loss of an artist and entertainer, there is a great deal of disappointment, grief, and in some cases, expressions of anger and frustration. Perhaps the lowest point came on the morning of November 9, when the world awoke only to discover that a supremely unqualified, reality TV entertainer would soon lead the world’s most important democracy.

Perhaps at the end of 2016, we might pause for a moment and consider our present experience in suffering. To be sure, much of what we endure contrasted with life in Syria or in Iraq rarely involves the kind of threats to our lives. But, as an African American pastor once told an audience white Christians, “If you are hurting: you are hurting!” Pain doesn’t stop or reduce because of the source of your pain wasn’t as “serious” as someone who fails to be fed because of famine. And, as a friend mentioned to me sometimes we’re so frustrated, that part of our release involves statement desiring a reset: Let 2016 be over.

And: for those believing you are a follower of Jesus: let’s not abandon the hope we have in Christ. I discovered, perhaps like many of you, that the announcement of the winner of the presidential election elicited a great deal of fear and anguish. And, the more I prayed to the Lord, I made a surprising discovery. Actually two.

First, one that I had and will continue to repent of: I had too much trust in the state. The election results evoked some serious fears about our democracy self-destructing. Like so many people, I assumed that the outcome we now live with could never happen. I began to seriously consider that the executive branch of the government would directly oppose my attempts at human flourishing.

That’s when I learned of the second discovery: most of my African American friends went on with their day on November 9. They’ve continued to live with the very threats to their existence from the executive branch most of their lives. Also true for some of my Latino American and Asian American friends: and family. What I considered new and astonishing, they had already learned to negotiate and learn to thrive. That’s not to say they were not disappointed with the election outcome. Or that they felt less safe than before. Rather, they had long since developed and shared strategies and knowledge for promoting safe engagement throughout the social world, and they intensified their learning for persevering through disappointment.

So, all of this pain and disappointment is new for me, right? Maybe for you, too. Hope gets much sustained treatment in the NT: it’s far more enduring that unexpected election results or the kind of frustration that makes us want to rage. Treating everyone with kindness requires some deep reservoirs of love and of a sense of belonging that come from Christ. Thriving is possible, because the produce of the resurrection has yet to cease bearing fruit of justice and peace: the new creation continues to be formed by Christ and those who join in his suffering as his chosen ones. But, let’s face it: it sure hurts.

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