Looking for hope

My wife and I joke with each other about getting older. (For my younger readers out there, please be patient with our age group. We need all the understanding we can get!) It’s a way of coping with that inevitable sense of decline. We don’t remember as well. We don’t hear as well. We don’t feel as well.

Did I mention that we don’t remember as well?

At some point, of course, it’s no laughing matter.

I have no intention of turning this post into a depressing screed on the ravages of aging. And there is research to suggest the emotional benefits of having the kind of perspective on life that comes from decades of experience. We’re a lot calmer about things that might have given us fits when we were younger.

But my question is this: when things seem to be headed downhill, where do we find hope?

We can hope and pray that God would heal our maladies. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In his own earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrated the coming of God’s kingdom through numerous acts of healing. He even raised the dead back to life.

But those acts of compassion were pointers, signs. They spoke of a future reality. Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus. But Lazarus would later die again. Yes, God may take away our cancer. But this life is not eternal life. That is not our hope.

Instead, we are taught in Scripture to hope in the resurrection. Jesus’ own resurrection is but the first of many, many more to come. We don’t look forward to being disembodied souls in some ethereal realm (that idea comes more from Plato than the Bible).  The biblical teaching is that we will have imperishable resurrection bodies: new bodies enjoying new life on a new earth. We’ll know at last what life was truly meant to be.

It’s a glorious vision.

But it can also be a bit abstract. For that reason, I’d like to suggest an addition. Not a substitute, but something to complement that resurrection hope.

It’s called love.

“Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things,” Paul says, “and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13, CEB). We need a hope for the future that helps us in the present. We need faith to have that hope. Eventually, however, the future will dawn. And in that day, what will remain is love, for love is of the very character of God (1 John 4:8).

Our bodies will give out on us. We can try to forestall the inevitable, but eventually the time will come to leave this earthly life. We all know this.

In the meantime, however, we are called as the people of God to love one another. That may take the form of compassion and care for each other in the face of physical or mental decline. And what I want us to remember — what I am trying to remind myself of — is that we don’t just reach out in love to make each other feel better. We love as a declaration of hope, as a way of showing that the future has penetrated the present, that life shines even in the shadow of death.

Let me put it another way. Why should we give compassion to one another? Well, yes, because we’re commanded to, but why else? We easily take healing as a miraculous sign of new life, and rightly so.

But love, too, is a sign. We visit the sick, we pray for healing. If God grants the prayer, we rejoice. And if not, what then? Is God absent? No: God is present in the love and care we give to one another. Love is eternal because God is eternal, and if we will but see it, acts of godly compassion and comfort are tangible signs of Christian hope.

It might be hard to imagine the reality of the resurrection when our present bodies fail us. But the love we give to each other now is also a sign of the future that is our destiny. Let us see it — and give it — for what it is.