Facing death with Easter hope

Apr 30, 2020 by

by Richard Bauckham, Psephizo:

The message of Easter is hope, and hope is what we very much need in these times.” Something like that is what many church leaders interviewed in the media were saying around Eastertime. Unfortunately, to people who know nothing much at all about what Easter celebrates, it can come across as a rather bland encouragement to optimism. In fact, our species has a natural bias to optimism. In circumstances in which, in a dispassionate view, pessimism might seem justified, we need to be optimistic in order to keep going and to do what is needed to improve matters. We need at least to know there is a fighting chance our efforts can succeed. In times of crisis it is an obvious duty of leaders to keep our hopes up.

But Christian hope is not the same as optimism. Christian hope is founded on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and so it is by definition hope for the dead. It is the most radical kind of hope. Death is the ultimate contradiction of all ordinary human hopes. It is the point at which the only kind of hope that makes sense is hope in God, the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead as promise of life for the dead. Church leaders asked to comment by our secular media have a dilemma, it seems to me. Do they say something that will make immediate sense to ordinary secular people (like “things are going to get better”)? This risks being so bland as to mean no more than any politician or newspaper columnist might say. Or do they say something clearly and distinctively Christian (“God has given us hope by raising Jesus Christ from the dead to new life beyond the reach of death”)? That risks being dismissed as incomprehensible or irrelevant by anyone who is not a Christian believer. I do not know how they should navigate that dilemma.

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