Straining to See the Light

I first set foot in South Africa in 1996. This was two years after their first democratically held elections. The icon Nelson Mandela was president. Every thing seemed so new. I knew little about South Africa when I moved here as a 19-year-old but I caught on quickly. This was a nation in transition and it was happening right before my very eyes.

Every day was living history. Simple things left me amazed. A black man driving a car in a formally white area would be exciting. One time I explained to my white South African friend that when black and white people married, they did not have mentally disabled babies. I then marvelled as this new information registered with him. Seeing new businesses started by formally marginalised people felt like a reason for a victory parade. Every thing was just so full of hope.

I have now lived here for 13 years and am facing a territory that I never anticipated. I’m struggling to hope for the very nation that defined it for the world. This took me completely by surprise.

I have always been able to find a reason for hope. Even when there is literally no reason to be hopeful. One of my students would be hauled off to jail but I had hope that as soon as he got out, things could be turned around. Hope was always there.

For some reason, life chipped away at hope. I didn’t even know it was happening. Little by little. News headline by news headline. Corruption story after corruption story. Electricity blackout after electricity blackout.

I can’t point to one exact moment. One day, I woke up and realised, “I’m not sure how South Africa’s story ends.” This was a painful realisation for me. It is uncharted waters. Whereas hope was always there, if even a glimmer… I could now no longer sense it or perceive it.

Somehow, through the years, I had embraced the South African past-time of despair for our collective feature.

In the midst of this, God spoke a question. “What happens when those who carry within them the hope of the world, no longer have hope for the world?”

Initially this seemed more painful than helpful. What sort of Christian am I? Not a hopeful or helpful one it seemed.

I let the question turn in my heart for weeks and months. I just sat in it.

God brought me to these two important realisations:

Hopelessness is not a place we can reside in for long as Christians.

When those who carry the hope of the world no longer have hope for the world… it is a dark place indeed. A place of despair.

This is not a word of condemnation. It was a word of protection. I could not stay in this place. It would kill my vision. It would kill my motivation. It would kill my spirit. It would leave me in a place of personal despair. When we find ourselves in a place of hopelessness for a nation, community or situation then we need to be active to get support and help. Hopelessness it not something we just “hope” goes away.

Hope is not the guarantee of an outcome, it is the promise of the Lord’s presence in a situation.

I don’t hope because I have a guarantee in South Africa’s future. I have hope because the Lord is and will be present.

Psalm 130 describes hope as the act of waiting for the Lord’s presence like a watchmen waits for the dawn.

The Lord’s presence.

Do I know what direction South Africa will head? No, I really don’t. What about France, Syria, Libya or the United States? We don’t know the outcome.

Hope says, “I will not stop straining to see on the horizon the arrival of God in this situation.” I don’t know the future but I can wait with an expectation that God will be there. Just like a night watchman knows the sun will appear on the horizon.

I don’t know what the future holds but I know who will be there. Hope is the act of straining to see glimmers of Him where there appears only the darkness of night.

Hope is in a “who” not a “what”. Hope is not the guarantee of what will happen. It is the guarantee of who will be there.

I had become consumed in “what is happening” in this nation. I needed to recast my eyes on the hope of the world. I needed my soul to wait for the Lord once again.

I look beyond the signs of imminent doom. I find ways to strain towards the horizon, nervously longing to see how God might appear in each situation.

Hope never denies the painful realities of the world. Hope see’s those realities and has a quiet confidence that they will not have the final word.

Hope is rising, slowly and tentatively. It is a glimmer. The very first signs of dawn. That is the very essence of hope.

Sitting, waiting, straining to see God appear, like a watchman for the dawn.

How are you doing with hope for your nation, community or situation?
Are you hoping in a “what” or a “who”?
What would it look like for you to be a watchmen waiting for the dawn?

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee

The Good ‘ol Days Are Ahead of Us

I’m not one to pick on old people (hi Dad!) but I’ve been noticing a common refrain coming out of the 60 and older crowd (There, that’s my marker for old… old ain’t bad but it is… old).

It goes something like this,

“Things sure have changed. Back in my day, life was simpler. Back in my day, there was a right and wrong and we all knew the difference. The way this world is going… it makes me shudder.”

Lest I pick on the all you old ones, I see my generation grabbing this outlook and running with it. Where do we get this? Overly rosy history books? Stories from our grandparents about the “good ‘ol days?”. Perhaps it is the constant news telling us that marriage is in ruins, young people just want to smoke weed and play video games and terrorists are hiding in bushes.

good-days

By: Vic

The contrast to the present world circumstances is the shiny and rosy past.  Things were just better back then. The present, however, is dark and out of control. The future, we only speak of in whispers because it is unthinkably bad.

Fear grips us. Pessimism reigns supreme. Exasperated sighs can be heard across the land. What are we to do when the present is bad and the future is fear-inducing?

If you find yourself in that place, here’s a few thoughts to consider:

The past wasn’t so rosy.

I was recently in the United States for an extended visit. People were constantly warning me of how far America has fallen. I heard comments along these lines often.

I bit my tongue but wanted to say,

“Were those good ‘ol days when Rosa Parks couldn’t sit in the front of the bus because she was black? Was it when children worked in factories or when women couldn’t vote? Perhaps it was when we bought and sold slaves? When, precisely, were the good ‘ol days?”

My heart was not be snarky… but truly, we idealise the past. Let us remind ourselves that the past was not as rosy as we want to believe. Every single generation has had it’s challenges and mountains to climb. Every generation. Our current generation is no different.

In fact, if you read your history books (including the Bible) you will see that often, the past was much, much worse than how events are unfolding today. This perspective should re-assure us that our situation is not unique.

The fear can be real.

Even with this reminder, the fear can be real. The challenges can be intimidating. It’s ok to acknowledge that.

I think to be more accurate, though, I should say “I’m intimidated by the challenges today”. That is more in line with reality and empowering. I can’t change the situations but I can grow in my peace and trust in God. This gives hope and joy in the midst of trials.

We should not claim that, “I have a right to be trapped by fear because these world events are unprecedented!”. It is both a false statement and a dis-empowering one. My life and future is not controlled by circumstances “out there”. The reality is that God is sovereign and he can work in my life for peace and goodness. God can give us the wisdom to face our mountains.

The only response is light.

Today has challenges and so will tomorrow. What is our response?  All the more to trust God, continue to flourish, and stand against it by living lives that plan for a hope filled future. We should not stop having children (a very real consideration of many). We should not stop reaching out. We should not stop building towards the future.

Jesus revealed to us that the only way for darkness to flourish is the absence of light. As for me and my family, when we see darkness, I want our first response to be… let’s light a match! Not, it’s never been darker, run for the hills!

Hey, old people, help us out!

To those who are older and wiser: you do damage when you constantly paint the past as some utopia of flowers and daisies. Past generations, you got some things very right. Well done and thank you! You also faced challenges and often didn’t respond well. This isn’t being negative, this is actually being encouraging.

We need your stories of success and failure. It does not give us hope to hear that you had it all figured out and we are stuck with a society falling apart for the first time. It’s not true anyways, right? (see above for confirmation of this). Doesn’t scripture show us to not shrink back from telling both the victories and failures personally and corporately?

Here is what you can say,

“These days we are facing a lot of challenges. But, you know what? My generation faced a lot of challenges too. God has the wisdom and strength for you to lead us forward.”

Say that. Or something like it. Just please don’t say, “I long for the good ‘ol days when everything was perfect… too bad for you and those like you that messed it all up.” Definitely don’t say that.

What about you? Are you scared of the current state of the world? How could your perspective shift?