Leaning in with Hope
“The way of Christian witness is neither the way of quietist withdrawal . . . nor the way of angry, militant zeal; it is the way of being in Christ, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain so that the healing love of God may be brought to bear at that point. . . . The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, where the world is in pain.”
The work we do at RTB has at its core the desire to help you and others see the heart of God, his love, his character, creation’s purpose, and humanity’s significance within creation. Our view of God’s work in creation affects our view of his character. A progressive creation model, like the one at RTB, highlights God as actively and intimately engaged in his creation since the beginning of time. We see God’s self-disclosure (revelation) of his character, his love, and purpose in the created order, and this reflects the depth and passion of his heart for reconciling and redeeming us. We see that we are made in God’s image, unique among all creatures and made in such a way as to be capable of receiving God’s revelation. All of creation is for the sake of God revealing himself to creatures made in his image so that we might be reconciled to God.
We see God’s revelation explicitly in every new scientific discovery. Whether we’re writing about the goodness of viruses, the fine-tuning of the universe, or God’s providence in creating all life with deep similarities so we can learn how to manage creation and advance human health by studying, for example, mice or insects or marine life, we see how God has provided for our flourishing and invites us to steward his creation with respect and wisdom. These two things (the certainty of God’s love and provision for us and his revelation of these everywhere we look) give us confidence to engage others.
It is our deepest desire and vocation to help others see the heart of God and how lavishly he loves us. God wants to be known and reconciled to those made in God’s image. It is the very heart of the Christian story. All of creation was made for us, not to abuse and manipulate it for material gain, but to give us opportunities to thrive, grow, create, worship, and come to a fuller knowledge of God’s abundant and extravagant heart, as well as to stand in awe of his majesty and power. When we rush to judgment because we misunderstand the goodness of creation, we rush to a misunderstanding of God’s heart and goodness.
When we understand the heart of God in creation we can even begin to see the heart of God in the midst of adversity, trials, and suffering. People all around us may be experiencing hardships and when we engage them with understanding and care, we might be surprised to see the result.
I had such an encounter recently where I had the opportunity to lean into another person’s life with confident hope.
Let’s call him Santos. I met him at a pub where a friend and I had gone to take a break from writing. We struck up a conversation and chatted about what I did, what he did, and where we were from. I learned among other things that he came from a family of nine siblings, all well-established professionals. After our conversation had continued for some time, I turned to him, looking for a way to bless him, and said, “I hope you and your siblings are all in good health.”
With one simple phrase of blessing, God opened the door.
Santos responded by saying, “Well, actually, I just came from the doctor’s office. I was diagnosed with thoracic cancer today.” Just earlier that same day!
My immediate response was one of deep sympathy. Santos needed to know that God cared, that God was there. That God saw. That God loved him, and that Santos was not alone. Because I had already mentioned that I was a Christian it was easy to tell Santos that I believed God could do miracles and that sometimes he still does. I offered to pray, even outside after we were finished. Santos seemed hesitant to accept the offer.
I turned back to my meal and friend but kept a conversation going with God about Santos as I did. As I waited, I sensed God saying, “Remember your AMP talk; lean in with hope and confidence of my love and my heart for Santos.” I turned back to Santos, and gave him a five-minute express version of my talk, sharing how we rush to incorrect judgments about things in nature that seem bad at first glance (e.g., earthquakes and viruses), but how we later discover through scientific study that they are vitally good. When we do this, we miss seeing God’s goodness in creation; likewise we often rush to incorrect judgments in adversities and trials and miss seeing God’s goodness to us in the midst of these. (You can listen to the longer AMP version here: “God’s Purpose Revealed in Science and Suffering.”)
I assured Santos that God was for him and that our meeting wasn’t an accident; it was purposed by a purposeful and loving God who saw Santos’s situation and wanted him to know that he wasn’t alone. I offered to pray again, and this time he eagerly accepted. We prayed right there in the pub, my hand on his shoulder.
Santos left encouraged that night by God’s love and presence, confident that God’s heart was for him and that he was not alone, despite any adversity that remained ahead. After all, God had sent a complete stranger to remind him of this and to care and pray for him.
There are real struggles, trials, and setbacks in life that can threaten to undo us. At any given moment, each of us may be hurting in different ways. (God knows how recently I have grieved and continue to struggle in the wake of the sudden and devastating loss of two dear friends and colleagues, Gina Donnelly Theising and Dr. Sue Dykes.)
I leave you with this challenge. If you know skeptics of Christianity, lean in to their lives a bit, show them that you care, and be willing to be vulnerable in sharing how you’ve coped with your own trials. You will learn something about them, and they may learn something from you about the love of God—a God who designed his entire creation and every human being, including them, with affection and purpose. Part of God’s purpose includes showing the person next to you God’s love evident in all of creation and specifically in the reconciling, healing, and hope-filled love of his Son, Jesus Christ.
So, go on; lean in with hope, in Christ, in the Spirit, for the sake of the world.
- N. T. Wright, “Jesus and the World’s True Light,” InterVarsity Conference: Following Christ/Shaping our World, Chicago, IL, January 1999.