Monday, August 27, 2012

Is Hope a Common Noun or a Proper Noun?

The nature of hope has been on my mind a lot this week, as I have followed the World Vision bloggers’ stories closely from the West.

I could tell from their posts and pictures that today was a day of great celebration, as World Vision marked the end of a 15-year project in a region that had become self-sustaining. A place that, 15 years ago, had been dogged by so many disadvantages. But today, they had planned their own party, wishing World Vision well as it closed up shop and moved on to another place that needed help.

I celebrated vicariously through them, like a giddy little kid. I was simply amazed by the work that World Vision had accomplished there. It was rewarding and gratifying to see how our support had been used to bring such an impoverished part of the world to a point of being so full of life, independent and self-sustaining. It made my entire day.

But at the same time, I struggled. I squirmed. I twitched a bit.

As the story unfolded, I read that a broad swath of faiths from that community had come together to mark the occasion: Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists were among the throng that had come to party like it was 1999. And it wasn’t just eating and dancing and marching to celebrate World Vision. The way the story was told, this was an otherworldly potpourri of religious rituals, in their purest ancient forms, blended into an olive drab of innumerable deities. They were pronouncing blessings on each other, making merry with each other. It was pretty clear that there was zero animosity. Not a hint of proselytizing—or persecution—loomed in the air. One of the bloggers did comment on the “uncomfortable” feeling he had, but described it as “the best day of [his] life.”

I wasn’t there to witness first-hand what sounded like an almost too-good-to-be-true expression of solidarity and super-human tolerance as a human race. And I must say, I’m as intrigued by it as anyone else. Living at peace between our fellow man is a GOOD THING. It’s something that should appeal to all of us. I hate arguing, fighting and warring. Those are everything that is ugly in the world to me. Getting along is a good thing. We have to get along with Muslims and Hindus and Christians and Buddhists. I work and ride the bus shoulder-to-shoulder with people of these stripes nearly every day. Great people that I highly respect.

But as I poured through the posts, I kept asking myself: is such a scene, with people engaged in worshipping their respective gods in complete harmony, masking the invisible Principalities and Powers that are at war among these major world religions? Is this scene a kind of whistling Dixie while Rome burns? Can we safely suspend the notion that these religions’ spiritual bows have been drawn against each other for millennia, join hands as humans and sing Kumbaya—and call it great? Or progress? Or the best day of our life?

I’m asking the question not to accuse anyone, but because I struggle with it. A lot. I wonder if I’m alone, or just a crazy back woods curmudgeon who needs to lighten up.

I know well (and appreciate) that World Vision does not “go to market” as a “missions” organization. Even though they are a Christian organization, their focus is not to proselytize, but to “be the hands and feet of God” in real world ways that relieve suffering in the world (which is a solidly biblical ideal). Joy and I enthusiastically give them considerable financial support each month. I think it’s simply amazing what they accomplish. What they’re doing extends out far beyond benefits for today, and helps generations to have a better life. There is a need for this; a HUGE need for this.

But when I see a potpourri of gods on parade with complete abandon, after a 15-year stent of being the hands and feet of God among them, I ask myself: Can and should we call it done done? How should we as Christians define a better life for people? How do we dimensionalize hope? Is it OK to stop short of preaching the explicit words of the gospel, and feel gratified in having given someone a better earthly life? Is it because we can’t, we won’t or we don't feel we need to?

If we deeply believe Christ is the way, the truth and the life, is it OK to be satisfied with our work when one generation is still commending a false god to the next, with a completely clear conscience? I realize that I may not be seeing the whole picture. And I realize that, to some believers who were on hand to witness it, it was probably a bittersweet scene.

When it comes to “common noun” hope, no one can deny that World Vision is at the forefront of giving hope to thousands who need it. But the burden of my post (and my heart, at this moment) is: who will now give the people Hope? Hope in the life to come? Hope that Christ said can only come through Him? Hope that can sleep at night knowing that from His fullness we have received grace upon grace? Hope that rejoices that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ? Hope that lets goods and kindred go, and delights in Christ and the glory to come when suffering comes?

I don’t believe it’s arrogant to commend Christ as our only Hope in and through our physical dispensations of hope. In fact, Hope is a debt we owe those who are without hope. It isn’t either/or. It is both/and. Some say they’re one and the same. I can’t, in good conscience, go that far.

I’m wrestling with that piece. Maybe I just haven’t heard those stories yet. I’m hoping to hear some of them yet this week. And I’m praying that just as hope has come to this ADP, Hope will come, too. I believe that it will. I believe that it can. From the sound of it, I believe that it still needs to.


  1. I too have enjoyed reading about the bloggers' experiences. I hear you about the great need to be clear about what/who Hope really is. I'm celebrating that through the personal connections these writers and World Vision are bringing, it will make it easier to see. Not sure how but I think it's through these many tribes/many tongues day that they had today that spiritual warfare is being won.
    Best to Joy (and you for holding down the fort of course)

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yeah, the last thing I want to do is throw cold water on World Vision. I always want to keep an open mind, and realize that I can't see the countless times that WV staffers have had opportunities to give an answer for the Hope within them. Those are the stories I'm hungry to hear about, because I believe they are happening.

  2. I hear your heart here, I think, Scott. BUT just as World Vision has done the work of development and encouragement in the name and for the sake of Jesus for these past 15 years and is now turning over the organizational management to the national people, so, too does the task of more explicit evangelization fall on the shoulders of the Christians who live there. Remember - that all four religious groups participated in this celebration. They may be in the minority, but there are Christinas living there, every day. Maybe they are the carriers of Hope with a capital "H" from here on. I celebrate the unity of this party day and I thank God for it. Seems to me that this very unity may be the most powerful witness to the gospel that WV or anyone else could possibly bring. And I understand the discomfort you feel at points. But I must also remember that GOD is in charge here and that we may be very surprised to find that Jesus shows up in places we would not expect to find him. He has that habit, you know?

  3. I struggle with the same concerns when I read stories from the WV bloggers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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