Relevant Biblical Passages: Genesis 1-3
The Need for Hope. One of the key features which distinguishes the Judeo-Christian perspective from other “natural” perspectives is that history has a goal. You can chart the key events on a line and the line is going somewhere. History has a goal. And for Christians that goal can be characterized by the term “hope.” Yes, there is also a judgment – which potentially could shape the goal through fear and dread, rather than through joy or hope. But for the believer, the end of history as we know it is a matter of hope.
- Is a perfect world a hopeless world? The study guide for this week’s lesson focuses on Genesis 1-3, noting the contrast between God’s created world before sin and after sin. The suggestion is made that hope is not necessary in a perfect world. Is that really the case? Or can we conceive of hope in such a way so as to make room for it even in a “perfect” world? What about the word “anticipation”? Couldn’t there be “anticipation” in a perfect world? And isn’t “anticipation” a near cousin of hope?
- Genesis 1:31: God’s good creation. What is it about our flawed world that makes “hope” such a precious thing? If one can imagine a perfect world before sin as a “hopeless” world, and see certain similarities with a restored world where hope is again not necessary, how would those perfect “hopeless” worlds compare with the perspective of our flawed world which for many seems “hopeless” in the more desperate sense of the word?
- Genesis 3:15-19: A world of snakes, thistles, and pain. Genesis 3 describes the subtle way in which God’s perfect world was polluted. As the narrative reads, the first sin does not usher in an immediate apocalyptic event. In some ways it could be described as a “frost” or “chill” which begins to pervade the air. Adam and Eve become fearful; they frantically seek for ways to cover their shame; God comes for his usual stroll in the Garden and doesn’t find them. Finally, there is the fateful conversation which announces the far-reaching changes that will take place as a result of sin. To what extent does Genesis 3 sound “hopeless”?
- Genesis 3:15: The Promise. Both Jews and Christians have seen glimpses of hope in Genesis 3:15. In Christian circles it has often been labeled the “protoevangelium,” the first gospel, or the first “good news.” To what extent is that “hopeful” note a reading back into the passage? Some critical scholars might be inclined to say that all Genesis 3:15 does is explain why women hate snakes. Why then has the verse become such a symbol of hope?
- Alternatives to the Christian hope. Many in our modern world seek to find a hopeful perspective within a world view which eliminates any end-time restoration. How might a Christian respond to the following:
- Stephen Mitchell. Introducing a collection of Psalms in modern English, Stephen Mitchell declares that “the mind in harmony with the way things are sees that this is a good world, that life is good and death is good” (A Book of Psalms, Harper, 1993, p. xiii).
- Deepak Chopra. The well-known eastern mystic and “alternative” medicine guru, Deepak Chopra, is noted in Time ( June 24, 1996, p. 68) as claiming that “Ultimately…we could undo the effects of aging, happily and healthily attaining a life of 130. Death should hold little fear, since we understand that in our essential identity – as parts of that universal field – we are immortal.”
- Wallace Stegner. In his novel, Crossing to Safety (1987, pp. 292-93), the gentle (atheistic) novelist, Wallace Stegner puts the modern “hope” into the mouth of one of his characters, Charity, as she faces death from cancer. In the following dialogue the full impact of her position is developed in a response from Charity’s husband Larry:[Charity]: “It’s as natural as being born,” she said “and even if we stop being the individuals we once were, there’s an immortality of organic molecules that’s absolutely certain. Don’t you find that a wonderful comfort? I do. To think that we’ll become part of the grass and trees and animals, that we’ll stay right here where we loved it while we were alive. People will drink us with their morning milk and pour us as maple syrup over their breakfast pancakes. So I say we should be happy and grateful and make the most of it. I’ve had a wonderful life, I’ve loved every minute.”[Larry]: “A monarch butterfly caught in the draft was lifted twenty feet over our heads. I saw Sid look away from Charity’s unsteadily insistent glance to follow the Monarch’s movement. Perhaps he was fantasizing, as I was, that there went part of what had once been the mortal substance of Aunt Emily or George Barnwell or Uncle Dwight, absorbed by the root of a beech tree in the village cemetery, incorporated into a beechnut, eaten by a squirrel, dropped as a pellet in a meadow, converted into a milkweed stalk, nibbled and taken in by this butterfly, destined to be carried south on a long, unlikely, interrupted migration, to be picked off by a flycatcher, brought back north in the spring as other flesh, laid in an egg, eaten by a robbing jay and laid as another kind of egg, blown out of a tree in a windstorm, soaked up by the earth, extruded as grass, eaten by a freshening heifer, some of it foreordained to be drunk as Charity said, by its own descendants with their breakfasts, some of it deposited in cowpads, to melt into the earth yet again, and thrust upward again, immortal, in another milkweed stalk preparing itself to feed more Monarch butterflies.”
In our modern world, how should a Christian respond to such a “hope”?