© September 20, 2018 | Schulter Etyang
Recently, I had the not so enviable and challenging task of trying to convince a Christian about God’s goodness. I tell you, this person was negative, cynical and bitter. Their words were incendiary and their emotions all over the place. Their kids are acting up and they are blaming everyone for their misery. Me trying to convince them that God is good and that God is fighting their corner didn’t end well. The accusation was thrown at me that I had not experienced what they are going through.
The reason why I indicate this person is a Christian is the irony they embodied – they are of the faith that professes good news in a cynical world, and yet, they are as cynical as the world they live in. And as Jenny would tell you, I don’t back down from such fights. I take them on, sometimes, to the detriment of the situation or even relationship. I cannot stand Christians who are negative and cynical. Why? They confuse the world. They discredit the gospel message to the world.
We live in a cynical, negative and a bad news world. From our politics, education, economics, race relations, family relations etc., everything is negative. And guess what? We love the negativity. We are drawn to negativity like the moth to the flame. Roy Greenslade in his article on the Guardian writes, … the regular calls for papers to publish “good news” rather than bad is largely a waste of time. People are stimulated to read by the latter. They want to know what has gone wrong rather than what has gone right.”
I, know of close friends of mine who wake up in the morning and the first thing they listen to is the radio, or scroll through the social media news feed on their phones. Imagine, the first thing these people listen to is negative soul usurping news. How do you enjoy your day when the first thing you hear is the economy is in recession, crime stats have gone up, employees are being retrenched, fuel and food prices are skyrocketing, politicians are planning to change laws that could affect your property rights, income inequality is at an all-time high, and Trump is still the president of the United States. It is no wonder we have such high levels of anxiety, sicknesses and even mental illness such as depression.
Christianity has this concept called hope. The Bible defines hope as to anticipate, usually with pleasure, and expectation of good. I was reading this passage in Zechariah and I was floored. My jaw dropped.
Zechariah 9:11-12 (NKJV)
“As for you also, because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope. Even today I declare that I will restore double to you.
Zechariah was speaking to the Israelites as they were returning from exile where they had been for seventy years. Some were already back in Israel and were trying to rebuild the wall and the temple. And, yes while this is for Israel, it also has gospel implications for us right here and right now. We could still see Jesus and his grace in this text.
The waterless pit – a waterless pit is a dark place – a negative, cynical and cold place. There is no hope here. There is no good news here. No light at the end of the tunnel. It is a dry place.
The Christian, however, has been set free from this waterless pit – this hopeless place.
Set free from the waterless pit by the blood of the covenant. Which covenant? Of course in the Old Testament, it was the law of Moses – the Old Covenant – the blood of bulls and goats. In the New Covenant, we have been set free by the blood of God’s beloved son. The blood of the eternal covenant (Hebrews 13:20)
Prisoners of hope
And then, not only set free from the waterless pit but we have been imprisoned in hope. We moved from one prison (waterless pit) to another prison marked HOPE. We have now become prisoners of anticipation, usually with pleasure and expecting good.
The Bible’s definition of hope is much better than the day to day usage of hope. In day to day, hope is a shrug, not so sure whether things will turn out right, I hope so, yeah will see, not so sure, crossing my fingers, are all expressed feelings of hope. Bible hope, however, is confident, it expects good all the time and it anticipates usually with pleasure.
You have to be hopeful in a bad news world. Your emotions, health, productivity, relationships, work and even your life depends on it. Without an expectation of good, you are susceptible to anger, cynicism, bitterness and self-defeating cycles. One end result of cynicism is this – you could start harbouring ill feelings and thoughts towards people whom you think don’t deserve what they have. I live in South Africa and I frequently hear this, ‘those people are not fair, those people have all the opportunities, those people are corrupt, those people are the reason why I’m not doing well in life’. ‘Those people’ is usually a connotation for racist inclinations. And, when you are cynical, your mouth will reveal what is abundant in your heart. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, says Solomon.
Jenny and I have made it a mission in our lives to be hopeful, the way the Bible defines hope. This is not to mean we don’t have challenges. Gosh, we do. Yet, we anticipate good things to happen to us all the time. On some occasions, we have met friends of ours who are bewildered by the fact that we are hopeful and joyful, yet the odds are against us.
Why are we hopeful? Here’s why. The gospel story tells us that Jesus took our place in the waterless pit. He paid for our freedom by his blood. We then took his place in the prison called hope. We exchanged places with him. He became a man of sorrows so that we can become a people of hope. This is why we anticipate, usually with pleasure and expect good.
That’s what grace looks like