Whether from the pulpit or in everyday talks, “hope” is one regular topic that keeps coming up in my conversations with Christian men. And I mean, they’re talking about it constantly right now. And for the devout, this notion is meant to convey a profound biblical truth about reacting to crisis. For those who are a little rusty on their Sunday school lessons, we could spend all day reviewing verses that discuss this religious type of hope. And at heart, it’s suppose to be an idea that goes beyond any mundane sense of wishful thinking.
But more on what hope really looks like in a second.
Of course, there’s no shortage of perceived and real crisis currently taking place across the global. And Christians are responding to people’s concerns about our troubling times. Every single week, I get questions where people want to know what they should do, whether dealing with failures of their church leadership or economic hardships. Then there’s also challenges like their feelings of intense isolation and so much more. A true sense of catastrophe is brewing. And so, they want advice, support, and often, answers about what the right course of action might be.
Still, a cotton-candy optimism also seems to be the flavor of the day even when chatting with non-religious people. It’s as if everyone is trying to put on their best game-face as they have a nascent but growing sense of the world coming apart around them. It’s as if they think that they can smile away our severe, society-wide problems while also ignoring them the best they can. For Christians, the default answer here is to have or foster hope. For the non-Christians, it’s to keep cool and to look on the bright side.
And that should be our first red flag about whether Christian men are actually as hopeful as they keep suggesting they are.
After all, even the most hopeless fool is trying to seem positive right now.
But in today’s society, in contrast to the biblical idea of hope, when you say you’re hopeful for something, it’s more akin to saying you’re simply doing a little daydreaming, wishful thinking with a tinge of real possibility. Perhaps what you want will come to pass or maybe not. It would be nice wouldn’t it? But you’re probably not so sure it’s going to happen, like when you say you hope to get a big tax return this year. Or if you were to say you hope your car doesn’t run out of gas when you’re running low. Who knows? But all you can do, as this thinking suggests, is leave it up to destiny.
Then we have the biblical idea of hope. In this version, we dispense with uncertainties and trade them in for a form of confidence that transcends yourself. Much of the New Testament talks about this type of hope, “elpis” in Koine Greek, as it overflows from the promises of Christ and through faith. And although it might sound like a small distinction, the context is often meant to relate to the expectations you might have in a friend or lover than in any scientific sense of definiteness. So, hope is like a promise between allies to come to their mutual aid. Think of it more as the trust you might have in a business partner to uphold their end of a contract rather than a crude prediction of the future measured up in a sterile laboratory.
What it most certainly doesn’t mean is that you have hope that God won’t let your car run out of gas when you’re low. Or that you should ignore your flashing fuel light.
Yet, when I talk to this Christian men, this is exactly what they’re doing in politics, culture, economics, and more. And while they profess to have hope about the future in our uncertain times, I can’t help but notice a few things. The biggest one is that when they affirm that they have a Godly hope, it’s usually as a response to being willfully and often grossly ignorant of what’s happening around them. This is the same for laymen and religious leaders. Worse, it’s sometimes even an excuse regarding how little they know about their own congregations or fellow Christians.
Hope, it seems, is noticeably absent of mutual aid from other Christians.
That last part shouldn’t be overlooked. Christians who tell me they’re hopeful about the future because of their trust in God seem to know almost nothing about each other, as Christians or day-to-day people. They have almost no experiences with each other outside of basic church functions. And when you scratch the surface, it’s not hard to see them as anything but a typical modern automaton enjoying their next day shipping and their favorite streaming shows like everyone else. Where, truly, is the difference between them and the rest of the “optimistic” world?
No, these aren’t bands of brothers. They hardly even qualify, in practice, as a church.
Instead, if they had hope, we would expect to find a deeper understanding of each other. And being able to use that awareness for substantive support, engagement, and connection. Maybe, and here’s a shocking thought, even discipleship that goes beyond basic, sugary Sunday sermons. We would also find a deeper form of discernment about how Christians should go about living in a complex world that’s on the verge of a nightmare.
But let’s also talk about discernment for a moment too. Compounding the problem of hope is the naive trust Christian men currently put in the system. Instead of seeking wisdom or at least, wise council, they remain outrageously gullible. And they often, in the face of difficult questions, seem to merely close their eyes and hope to wish away their problems. Sure, they do express some minor worry about the growing political rhetoric or economic devastation. But that is little more than all it is, words. And this as they go about what appears to be the same lives their neighbors lead. In this case, those lives often involve the same forms of escapism and convenience rather than trying to gain discernment or put long-suffering into practice. For most of them, because of this situation, they lack any ability to resist the world.
Oddly, this hope they’re talking about looks remarkably like the same powerlessness and defeat everyone else is experiencing.
And it doesn’t look like much more than an excuse for it.
Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve come across this same sort of quasi-religious, dopey sense of hope or optimism. To relate a similar situation, also with Christians: in the past few decades, I’ve known a handful of Christian men (and a number of Christian women too), who said for decades that they were waiting for God to bring them a wife (or husband). And they hoped and trusted he would. They were absolutely certain that they were taken care of. God’s got this!
Where are they now? All unmarried in their 40s, and obscenely childish in their understanding of the relationships between men and women. They have zero discernment or wisdom on the topic and certainly no meaningful role to play in the lives of others.
But they’ll still tell you they have hope. And that fuel light of theirs is still flashing.
For Christianity, the word hope looks to have lost its meaning. In fact, with all this in mind, it’s glaring that it’s another confectionery at the candy counter that has become church culture, which is something that exists as a separate thing from any Biblical experience. And hope also now means little more than what everyone else means by it, but something worse, as Christian men embrace their own naive form of self-destruction, exactly like those unmarried men I’ve known.
And really, there’s something more concerning here.
That’s how, in their professing to have hope, they actually reveal the deep sense of anxiety and fear they’re trying to hide. In their paralysis and stagnation, there is little trust in God, or at least not enough to take action or gain understanding. And in this manifested terror, they also betray their selfish apathy, rather than embracing the responsibilities and duties God has given us. In this way, if something isn’t changed, they’ll fail each other too, as Christian men.
How can we fix this?
First, stop using “hope” as an excuse for ignorance
If you say you have hope when faced with something you refuse to deal with, even when it’s your responsibility, you’re not professing hope. You’re expressing your selfishness. Take a hard look in the mirror and don’t ask only where your hope comes from but also where it’s going and what purpose it serves.
Contrast your sense of hope to that of your non-believing friends who are “remaining optimistic.”
Surprise, surprise! Your heathen friends are hopeful too. How does your hope really differ from theirs in practice? What ways would you say it looks different? Are there fruits from your hope? What would they look like?
Take a hard look at whether you’re living apart from the world
If your church is afraid to meet or embrace one another, pause for a moment and ask whether you’re living apart from the world. Are you really connected or even know anything about the Christians around you? If not, is that really hope manifested? Does hope really bind you together at alll? A congregation with hope wouldn’t have the fear and anxiety that requires them to bow to authorities that have manipulated them with lies. They wouldn’t be as gullible and misguided as most congregations are today.
Give some damn tangible advice or substantive opinion
I’m almost getting tired of giving out this suggestion in our trouble times, but it needs repeating: your fellow Christians know that God is in control. When they come to you for advice or your thoughts, spiritual or otherwise, they’re not asking for “hope.” They have that already. What they want is your help. It’s not unlike when a friend comes to you after the death of a loved one. They mostly certainly want something more than hearing everything is going to be okay. For Christian men, this means providing sound judgment and thoughtful answers, but also serving up thought-provoking questions about our world and our place in it.
What happens if we employ these small solutions?
We get a hope armed with action. And a confidence born from churches that offer refuge from a world gone mad.
And we’ll also get Christian men who are leading instead of laying down to watch their churches die.