Relevant Verses: Rom. 8:18-24; 1 Cor. 15; Rev. 21-22
Leading question: Is it possible to live on hope rather than on the basis of proof?
Comment: Our lesson for this week affirms that Second Coming of Jesus. But remarkably, it opens on a note that could almost described as “despair.” The author has unearthed no less than six biblical passages in which believers utter the cry: “How Long?” That cry from the souls under the altar in Revelation 14:6 is familiar. The others are less so. Let’s look at each one with a brief analysis to show how they are similar and how they differ:
Zechariah 1:12: This is a surprising passage because the “angel” of the Lord – in some passages of the Old Testament a seeming euphemism for Yahweh himself – asks the “skeptical” question (“How long?”) of Yahweh himself. Here the answer seems to have been immediate as the Lord responded with “gracious and comforting words.”
Then the angel of the Lord said, “O Lord of hosts, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which you have been angry these seventy years?”(NRSV)
Psalm 94:1-3: Here the question is posed by the psalmist. Yet his “skepticism” is countered at the end of psalm when he himself testifies to his firm commitment: “But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.” (Ps. 94:22, NRSV)
O Lord, you God of vengeance,
you God of vengeance, shine forth!
2 Rise up, O judge of the earth;
give to the proud what they deserve!
3 O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult? (NRSV)
Habakkuk 1:2-4: Here the prophet puts forward two complaints about the injustice in the world. The Lord responds, but doesn’t satisfy Habakkuk. Finally the Lord appeals for patience, and Habakkuk does seem to be more content. Indeed, he moves into praise before he is through.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
Luke 18:1-8: Tantalizing may be the best word to describe this parable. Two things are notable; 1) the “truth” is put in the mouth of an unjust judge; 2) Jesus makes the point of the parable clear: Pray always and don’t lose heart.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Romans 8:18-24: Paul admits the pain in the world, and says that “hope” is the answer – probably as close as we can get to a “real” solution.
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Revelation 6:9-10: In the last book of the Bible where a new heaven and a new earth are promised, God still allows his people freedom to ventilate without fear of recrimination.
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”
Question: Is a God who allows that much discontent to surface, one that we could live with forever?
1 Corinthians 15:13-19: Resurrection hope. Paul claims that without the resurrection hope, there is nothing worth living for. From the standpoint of theodicy, there can be no satisfactory response without a future life. But one could question Paul’s conclusion that the Christian life is not worth living without that hope.
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Question: If one cannot believe in a restoration, is there anything left to believe in? In short, is there no value in Christian living without a future hope?
Ecclesiastes 8:14: Judgment hope in Ecclesiastes? Given the fact that Ecclesiastes is on the fringes of faith – there is no trace of prayer or praise in the entire book – it is surprising to find this verse in conjunction with a lesson on the “blessed hope.” Admittedly, however, whether or not one sees Ecclesiastes as inspired, the book’s author is close to the truth when he describes the injustices in the world.
14 There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity.
Note: At least one evangelical author is willing challenge the “inspiration” of Ecclesiastes because of its skeptical perspective. Walter Martin was no doubt trying to avoid the SDA use of Eccles. 9:5 “(“The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing.”) when he registered this critique of Ecclesiastes:
“It is almost universally agreed among Biblical scholars that Ecclesiastes portrays Solomon’s apostasy and is therefore virtually worthless for determining doctrine. It sketches man’s ‘life under the sun’ and reveals the hopelessness of the soul apart from God. The conclusion of the Book alone mirrors the true revelation of God (chap. 12).” – The Truth About Seventh-day Adventists, 1960, p. 127, note #11.
Question: How can one affirm the value of doubt in a community that does not value the inquiring mind? Note this quote from George MacDonald:
To deny the existence of God may…involve less unbelief than the smallest yielding to doubt of His goodness. I say yielding; for a person may be haunted with doubts, and only grow thereby in faith. Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood…. Doubt must precede every deeper assurance; for uncertainties are what we first see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed. – George MacDonald, 365 Readings, #152, pp. 66-67
Revelation 21:1-5; 22:1-5: The New Testament closes on a triumphant note: the promise of a world restored, one without pain or tears.
Revelation 21:1-5: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true” (NRSV).
Revelation 22:1-5 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (NRSV)
Question: What is the basis for your hope in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ?