In an earlier post (Development and the Church Part I) I talked about my experience building houses in a village in rural Cambodia as part of a church ‘mission trip’, and posed the question: as a Christian, was it worth it?
My answer is a pretty simple ‘yes’. The reason is the particular shape of Christian hope.
Christian hope is based on Jesus’ resurrection: a real, physical resurrection to a new kind of life. The resurrection means that the new creation Christians are looking forward to has already begun in the present. As such, our hope is not simply for the future; it is a hope which makes a difference in the present. Tom Wright explores this idea and its implications much more eloquently than I:
“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it. And precisely because the resurrection was and is bodily, albeit with a transformed body, the power of Easter to transform and heal the present world must be put into effect both at the macro-level, in applying the gospel to the major problems of the world.”
Because of this truth, the Church is called to get to work in the present, to give signs of this hope to the world:
“It [Easter] is the story of God’s kingdom being launched on earth as in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus’ followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory, and that inaugurated new world, into practice.”
-Tom Wright, Surprised By Hope
Don’t misunderstand what Wright is saying: the new creation that Christians hope for will not come in fullness until Jesus returns. Nevertheless, in and through Jesus, Christians have overcome the powers of darkness, and so have the freedom to work for the good of the world. This isn’t an option for some Christians who are interested in development, social renewal, medical aid; it’s part of the calling of the Church. Wright goes on to say that the Church should pursue justice, beauty and evangelism as an anticipation of the future we wait for; tangible signs of what is to come as we wait for it. They are part of our proclamation, so that the world might know hope, as found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is also, I think, worth pointing out that the works of hope we undertake in the present aren’t simply a sketch of something for the future. Rather, as with Jesus’ resurrection, what we do in the present will last into the new creation. Revelation 21, speaking about the city of the new creation, announces that “The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Each day its gates will never close because it will never be night there. They will bring the glory and honour of the nations into it” (21.24-26). What happens in this world is not nothing. Christians know what future is in store, and it guides our actions in the present, while we wait. On Christan hope, theologian Jürgen Moltmann says this:
“In its eyes the world is full of all kinds of possibilities, namely all the possibilities of the God of hope. It sees reality and mankind in the hand of him whose voice calls into history from its end, saying, ‘Behold, I make all things new’, and from hearing this word of promise it acquires the freedom to renew life here and to change the face of the world.”
-Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope
What precisely will last into the new creation from this one, I do not know. I’m open to suggestions! But one thing seems clear: the mission of the Church is to bring hope to the world, doing so always in the name of Jesus Christ.