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History Is Important in Times of Despair

God has already revealed himself in Christ, and Christ promises to be with us.
History Is Important in Times of Despair
Image: Myriams-Fotos/Pixabay

“I just don’t believe anymore.” These were the last words I would have thought would come out of my long-time prayer partner’s mouth. Yes, she has had some challenges recently, but nothing compared to past trials. This phone call was different. The exhaustion and unbelief was palpable.

If we are honest, we have all been there—moments or even seasons of doubt and utter disbelief in God. I felt a wave of doubt this summer when ministering to children at an inner-city summer camp. I listened to children share about their horrific abuse, hunger, and absence of safety in the home.

To see a young person break down in tears and say “I feel forgotten” is heartrending. Then to come home to the nightly news of mass shootings in multiple cities and hurricanes ripping through communities…even the person with the strongest of faith can cry out, “God, where are you?”

Most people would agree that our world is groaning. During these times, one can wonder Is God real? Or perhaps, If God is real, is God good? I often hear people say, “I wish God would reveal himself to me. I wish He would speak to me and show me the way.”

With confidence, followers of Jesus can answer, “He has and he will.”

The challenges of our world reaffirm that our one and only hope is Jesus.

In our pluralistic climate, Jesus is often relegated to one of the many options of gurus or religious leaders one can follow to get a sense of peace and fulfillment. The Christian faith at best is touted as one of the many paths to God – “if one is into God at all.”

Oftentimes, followers of Jesus are deemed wishful thinkers, delusional, and those in need of a crutch. “You follow Jesus, I do yoga. It is all the same.”

This is not to mention our consumeristic, materialistic secular world that is making its case for our attention on a moment-by-moment basis, bombarding us with advertisements ringing in our pockets and alerting our wrists.

According to Forbes, “Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000-10,000 ads each day.”[1]

In the midst of this swirl of confusion, Jesus says, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

The New Testament understanding of faith was never a blind leap into the dark abyss of unknowing; quite the opposite. The New Testament Greek words for faith (pistis) and believe (pisteuo) means “to trust, to commit to, to put your weight down on.”

Since the resurrection of Jesus, notions of faith and belief are and always have been a step into the ultimate reality. The first apostles believed so much in the reality of Jesus of Nazareth’s life, death, and resurrection that they staked their very lives on it—and we can too.

So How Do We Live in Hope?

We must, first and foremost, recall history. Renown church historian and current President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Dr. Scott Sunquist, is known to say “history is very important.”

The Israelites were well versed at recalling their history. God commissioned Joshua to make remembrance stones and called Israelites to celebrate feasts which recall God’s action in human history.

Every Passover Seder reminds the Jewish people of the faithfulness of Jehovah God over the centuries. Many Psalms begin with lament but end with praise as the psalmist recalls God’s faithfulness throughout history.

Psalm 22 begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”Then the psalmist begins to recall God’s goodness and deliverance, “In you, Lord, our ancestors trusted;and you delivered them.”

After remembering, the psalmist breaks into praise, “I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him;future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,saying that he has done it.”

Especially in our pluralistic, relativistic, and often despondent culture, Jesus followers need to take time to remember and recall God acting in human history. We must affirm our faith that:

1 – God is real.

And

2 – God revealed himself fully in the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, we see the full goodness, justice, power, and lavish love of God.

Here are some pointers to remind us:

  1. The fact of the world. As Gottfried Leibniz posed, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” The mere fact that the world exists points to a creator God. Renown Cambridge Mathematical Physicist John Polkinghorn argues that in order for the world as we know it to come into being, billions of constants had to be finely tuned. If any had been off a fraction, the world would not exist.
  2. The design of the world. It is difficult to observe the intricate design of the world and throw it all up to random chance. Think of the complex intricate focusing equipment of the human eye and the uniqueness of each human thumbprint. Picture the beauty of nature: a sunset and the intricacies of a leaf. It is highly unconvincing to say it has no designer and that it is all random.
  1. Personhood. What about human reason? Human creativity? Personality? Can the impersonal create the personal? Could our human intelligence have come from cold matter? Our ability to reason, imagine, create, and make decisions points to the existence of an ultimate intelligence.
  2. Values. Where do values we cherish such as truth, beauty, goodness, creativity, and love come from? If they just come from within ourselves, why do we all value them (granted in different ways in different cultures, but there does seem to be much common ground)?
  3. Conscience. Every human being has a sense of right and wrong. Most humans have this instinctive sense of the “ought.” But where does the “ought” within us come from?
  4. Religion. Wherever you go, in every culture, there is belief in God. Why is there this concept of God in the first place? Why is it that humans have this instinct to worship something beyond ourselves.
  5. History. Over and again, archeological findings corroborate the biblical narrative of a creator God who is faithful, compassionate, just, merciful, and actively involved in human history. This is not a made-up fairy tale. It is an account of events that occurred in real time and real space.
  6. Jesus Christ. The BEST evidence for the existence of God is the person of Jesus Christ who revealed God to the world. Jesus is God with skin—fully human and fully divine. (Philippians 2) The Gospels proclaim that God actually came to earth and walked among us.

What do we see in this Jesus? It is important to remember his miraculous birth,first and foremost.

Second, his unparalleled teachings turned concepts of power on its head and have been at the center of many social reform movements in human history, including our own civil rights movement. His call to love God, neighbor, and self. There has been no rival to the teaching of Jesus.

Third, his perfect life of LOVE is unmatchable. No human being has lived a perfect life of love like Jesus. John, his closest companion said about us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). And later, he says of Jesus, “In him was no sin” (1 John 3:5). He loved so radically that although he was God, he washed his disciple’s feet. He treated all with dignity in a highly fractionalized culture. Even while being crucified, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Fourth, his miracles and power healed many. There is not one person Jesus turned away who asked for healing. We see the profound compassion of God in Jesus. He drove out demons, opened blind eyes, transformed lives, calmed storms, and fed thousands.

Fifth, he was the fulfillment of prophecy. Scholars highlight that over 322 prophecies in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Sixth,Jesus’ claims and actions were reserved for God alone.Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus forgave sins, received worship, and said he would be the final judge—all actions reserved for God.

Finally, he was raised from the dead. Jesus broke the death barrier. He died on the cross, suffering the most brutal death, and rose again so we could live. Jesus freed us from sin and death. It is the historical reality of the resurrection that affirms the divinity of Jesus. We have:

  • eye witness accounts of the resurrected Jesus;
  • apostles who were all martyred except one for proclaiming this truth;
  • the day of worship that had been the same for thousands of years changed from Saturday to Sunday;
  • a movement that sparked the greatest shift in human history when the exponential growth of the apostolic church came into being.

The best news of all is that this historical Jesus is alive and seated at the right hand of the Father and is still revealing himself to human hearts to this very day.

So when we have moments of doubt, let us remember: that (1) God is real; (2) God is good and we see him fully in the person of Jesus; and (3) God is alive. We can know him and his love and power every day of our lives into eternity.

History is important. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Let us REJOICE and spread the good news!

Carrie Boren Headington is the founder of The Good News Initiative, which provides resources in evangelism. She works with all Christian denominations and serves as Canon for Evangelism in the Episcopal Diocese of Diocese of Dallas and Consulting Evangelist for Revivals for The Episcopal Church engaging in evangelistic speaking, apologetics, and equipping congregations to be the hands, feet, and mouthpieces for God in their communities.

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History Is Important in Times of Despair