Christian faith is, in part, a matter of hoping. We believe in and trust the Lord of the future, and we lean into the future that God has promised. God goes before us, beckoning us into the new world that is already being created, calling us to join in the challenging work of fashioning it.
However, when we're confronted with personal disasters or with the daily horror stories of society's ills, we may falter. Hope may seem to be unrealistic, naive optimism.
Yet our hope is not in trends. Our hope is in the Lord of all creation and all history—a God who is still in charge and is actively at work transforming the world. How do we know this?
The coming shalom
The Bible is a book of God's promises. It may seem to be about the past, but its outlook is toward the future. From promises in the Book of Genesis to Abraham and Sarah for a new land, a son, and countless descendants (chapter 17), to promises in the Book of Revelation of a "new heaven and a new earth" (21:1), God was helping biblical people live into the vision of creation's ultimate goal.
The Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) uses the word shalom to describe God's future. We often translate this word as "peace," but it means more than that. Shalom means a world of plenty, of personal and interpersonal harmony and righteousness, of liberation, of just economic practices, and of ordered political relations.
The coming kingdom
For Jesus, the shalom of God was the kingdom of God, the coming reign of God in human hearts and in all human affairs. In fact he proclaimed that this reign already "has come near" (Mark 1:15) and that the decision about one's part in it was an urgent necessity: "Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).
In the resurrection of our Lord, his amazed followers recognized that God's reign was breaking into their lives: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old regime of hostility, greed, injustice, and violence was obsolete and dying. The new order was coming in: "See, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5). For those who see with the eyes of faith, it is apparent that our common human future on earth is indeed the promised reign of God.
The church as a sign of the future
There are signs of the coming Kingdom all about us—from random acts of kindness by individuals to the worldwide family's growth in tolerance and cooperation. In particular we see the church as a sign of the Kingdom. Imperfect as it is, the community of believers nevertheless provides the best clue we have to God's vision. Day after day, we see deeds of Christian courage, of compassion and reconciliation, of integrity in the face of temptation, and of witness for truth and justice.
And what is our role? To sit back and simply wait for God's kingdom to arrive? By no means! We are to pray earnestly for the Kingdom to come on earth (Matthew 6:10). We are to watch faithfully for any signs of its coming (Matthew 25:13). We are to put away our old selves and clothe ourselves "with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). As renewed people, we're to do "the work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:12). As Easter people witness and serve, we take part in the Kingdom's dawning. Thy Kingdom come!
From United Methodist Member's Handbook, Revised, by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 90-91. Used by permission.