“There is grace, though,
and wonder, on the way.
Only they are hard to see,
hard to embrace, for
those compelled to wander in darkness.”
-Poem by anonymous inmate of Auschwitz, written on a barracks wall
“Are things going to be alright?”
It’s a common question these days. The world has taken a dark turn. In the last couple of years, it has grown increasingly chaotic and unpredictable, and that is the cause of anxiety and fear. It is reasonable to wonder if things will be alright in the long run, or ever.
I remember asking myself that question when I was 12, after my parents had told my sister and me that they were getting a divorce. “Are things going to be alright?” I wondered in bed that night. I did not know.
There are some quick and easy answers to that question. “God is in control” is popular, but it is not a good answer to this question. I do believe it is true, of course. But that does not mean things will be alright. God is in control, yet things are not alright even now for many people around the world. There are children in Syria who have never known peace, or what a full stomach feels like. For some, their entire lives from beginning to end are a parade of horrors ending with a barrel bomb tumbling out of a helicopter.
We must also remember what happened to Jesus. Things were not always alright for Him. Jesus was tortured to death in front of his own mother while his enemies taunted him. He died naked on a cross. All of this occurred while God was in control. So this answer, while true, does not mean that things are going to be alright.
Christianity is an enduring religion precisely because it is not a religion of optimism. Because of this, Christianity is never thrown off balance when things are not alright. After all, the symbol of our faith is the cross. Christianity has always been intensely focused on death, on dying correctly, on dying to yourself so that you may become like God. It is a religion that does not flee from suffering. To be a Christian is to bear a cross for the life of the world, as Jesus did. To read Holy Scripture is to read a catalog of suffering people, many of whom suffer unjustly. Christians do not embrace the power of positive thinking, but rather the cross and their own death to self.
All of this may sound dismal and morbid, and it would be if it were not for something else, something we have that is far better than optimism: hope. Hope is not positive thinking, nor is it a belief that things are going to be alright for us. Positive thinking and a belief that things will be alright can be easily taken away—they disappear as soon as things go wrong.
Hope is more durable, stronger and enduring. Where optimism dissipates, hope remains. Hope survives even in the darkest places, in prisons and slums, in abusive homes and inescapable poverty, in concentration camps and in besieged cities.
Hope does not have to believe things will be alright in the here and now. But hope does believe this: that God has promised to end the suffering of the innocent, that Christ will return for us and make things right, that those who weep now will be comforted, that all wounds will be healed, that He will wipe their tears away, that those who saw nothing but pain and suffering will see the Glory of God, that those compelled to wander in darkness will one day be embraced by grace and wonder.
Things will not be alright, not for everyone or perhaps anyone. We do not know what the future holds. But we do have hope, a hope that has burned through the ages in the heart of the church, through gloomier times than these, even in the midst of chaos and the darkest wickedness. We do not always know how to meet the times in which we live, and hope seems too small a thing with which to meet them. But hope is enough for now, and it will be enough for us—until the Lord returns.