“This is about hope” was the front-page quote in a national newspaper on 8 August. The preceding remarks might give you a clue as to the speaker “We are not doing celebrity, personality, abusive politics – we are doing ideas. This is about hope.” (Cryptic clue: sounds like ‘a gift devoted to God’ Mark 7:11).
Hope has been defined as ‘to trust in, wait for, or desire something or someone; or to expect something beneficial in the future’ (WB Nelson, Baker’s Theological Dictionary). For politicians this might be the gaining of power, or getting into a position to exercise power, and perhaps even having the determination and skill to put ideals and ideas into practice. For a citizen or voter hope is likely to be dominated by personal needs for security, safety, relationship and fulfilment.
For religious people hope is in this world and the next, in the here and now and in eternity. And where we find hope discussed and described in the Bible it is not in isolation from other essentials of faithful flourishing. The First Testament search for a promised land or rescue from desperate exile are inspired by renewed trust in a saving God and emboldened by expectation of blessing to come. In the New Testament, hope is included in a great triumvirate of Christian vision. It is supported on the one hand by faith and on the other by love (1 Corinthians 13, 1 Corinthians 15:19).
Whether for public or personal life, Christians are given a framework for practicing durable hope. Faith in God who gives us identity, who reveals who we are both as persons and community, and who reminds us that our chief end is to worship him. Love in Christ who shows us how to behave, who saves us from ourselves, and who empowers us in righteousness and holiness. Hope in Holy Spirit who connects us with the whole, releases us for daily living and holds the promise that “we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Our Christian task in 2015 and beyond is to be open to God’s leading in a world that is seeking these common goods of secure identity, right behaviour and life-long fulfilment. Some people in power seem to be expressing an over-confident understanding of God or religion, even of the Church, based as much on imagination and vague expectation than well-researched evidence. Yet from India to the USA, DR Congo to Syria, from China to Wales religious faith keeps coming to the fore.
Here in England, during August I, with others, have been contacted by Westminster politicians on violent extremism (Prime Minister), Sunday shopping hours (The Minister of State for Housing and Planning) and assisted suicide (MP for Edgbaston). We are also all aware of the intense issues around refugees. Locally, with colleagues, I am involved in active consultation about civic leadership and community partnership (CEO Birmingham City Council).
Moises Naim in a stimulating analysis of institutions from boardrooms to states and churches (‘The End of Power’ Basic Books 2013) gives us a strong prompt to recognise that “being in charge isn’t what it used to be” and to participate in the renewal of society in more dynamic processes.
More than ever in The Church of England Birmingham we are called to the adventure of articulating and living out the evidence of God’s purpose that gives us our essential Christian hope now and in England:
a hope that is universal, operating at personal, pastoral and policy levels, for individual salvation, community cohesion and national wholeness (2 Chronicles 18:13);
a hope that is relational, depending on continual repentance, restoration and renewal (Romans 5:1-5);
a hope that is realistic allowing for failure and pain, recognizing that hope feels dangerous when your heart has been broken (1 Thessalonians 4:13, Luke 24:21);
a hope that is trustworthy in the flows of new Christians, and countless acts of service responding to the eternal good news of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).
In the months ahead I hope we can achieve a new literacy about lived religion and be heard as people of faith in debates and decisions on the topics that are in the public mind.
Let us also encourage men and women of faith, hope and love, to be “a gift [in public life] devoted to God”. Is that is your calling too?
The Rt Revd David Urquhart
Bishop of Birmingham