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The Staggering Theological Challenge for This Generation

Our eight-year-old granddaughter Zoe worries about ISIS. She wonders where her family might find a safe place.

Is it a personal matter? As one of the more intuitive and imaginative of our grandchildren is she just overly sensitive about the future, her spirit too easily bruised?

I suspect not.

Reactions to a vastly uncertain future vary.

In a recent New York Times piece, Farad Manjoo reflects upon the prophetic accuracy of Alvin Toffler’s 1970 work Future Shock.

After noting some of the political, technological, social and political changes rolling over the planet like a series of tsunami waves, Manjoo observes:

In many large ways, it’s almost as if we have collectively stopped planning for the future. Instead, we all just sort of bounce along in the present, caught in the headlights of a tomorrow pushed by a few large corporations and shaped by the inescapable logic of hyper-efficiency — a future heading straight for us. It’s not just future shock; we now have future blindness.

We sense that much of the rapidly changing future is not benign so we become spiritually paralyzed with the result that intellect and imagination seem almost frozen. We look away and mutter "Whatever."

In a Huffington Post article, Jesse Ferreras, focuses upon the often-maligned Millennial generation. In part, the headline reads: “Millennial Work Anxiety Driven By ’Ruthless Comparison.”

In a manner reminiscent of Manjoo, Ferreras recites some of the major forces buffeting the generation: housing, employment, the place of social media, the crippling effect of an overabundance of choice.

Bottom line: anxiety among the younger generations trends upwards; it is a question of the future.

Canadians look to the South, mystified by the collation of the gun culture and racism, aghast at the pronouncements of those seeking political power and wary of the very real danger of travelling in a violent land. All the while drones deliver lethal payloads against people (the majority of which are civilians), in an increasing number of places around the world, who identify the West/North with the evil First Order. 

Reality feels unreal at times.

In each generation, one theological issue tends to rise to the top: the nature of God, the nature and destiny of humanity, the nature of evil, the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In our time, each of these issues reverberates and deserve thought and action.

More fundamentally though I wonder if the current call to the church is the matter of hope.

In the Christian tradition, we have at least two orientations towards the future, each born of differing historical circumstances and calling for particular responses on the part of the followers of The Christian Way.

We can lean into an apocalyptic posture when the forces aligned against the world - or at least our part of it - seem overwhelming and destruction non-negotiable. The end will come and God will bring down those responsible for evil, injustice and inhumanity. The only positive change possible will arise from power(s) beyond local control. Patience, courage, endurance, and tending to the wounded outline the posture of the hopeful.

The other major response to the future is to hold up visions of justice, community and abundance, call leaders and nations to repent and change the direction of their policies and actions. The role of the followers of the Way is to work energetically and steadfastly, where possible, for reform, issuing calls for repentance, documenting instances of injustice and mobilizing partnerships with those like minded.

At present we, the church, oscillate between the two postures, uncertain of our witness.

Hope calls for proclamation and enactment, if not to the masses, to those who gather wondering about the fate of the world and their grandchildren. Our orientation needs to go beyond the issuing of ever frequent social media messages of #PrayForThe LatestTragedy and the mouthing of “Let’s hold these people in our hearts and prayers.”

Historically we have many precedents. In times past Christians have emulated Jeremiah’s purchase of land in the war zone at Anathoth (Jeremiah 32) through the establishment of communities determined to live, and show through their living, a different view of reality and the future.

Hope is not a simple matter, theologically or spiritually.

As Christians we are prisoners of hope; if we surrender hope we are left only with the cross.

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I wonder

  1. Is hope the critical, strategic word the church is called upon to proclaim and enact?
  2. What are some ways in which the Christian community - congregations, regional bodies, etc. - can incarnate the Word of hope now?

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for your concise words that define the problem. It has been said that a problem well defined is well on its way toward solution. Assuming the problem is the apparent unstoppable decline of the church and its vision to bring God’s dream for humanity to reality here on earth – we are faced with 2 significant choices. The apocalyptic one offers little hope and the other one offers hope through strategic choices as we move forward with limited human and financial resources. It seems to me that those dedicated people who do the necessary hard work will need to be as committed and faithful as the profits in the old testament and speak the truth and inspire followers who can lead us out of the wilderness we are in today. Yes they will hold up visions of justice, community, abundance, and reform through repentance.

    1. Thanks Arnold.

      What’s that old saying? Live as if it is all to God; work as if it is all up to us – or something like this.

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