Sunday, March 8, 2009

The hope that we carry within us

One of the most beautiful, but also obscure instructions in the Bible can be found in the book of Peter where the apostle, after presenting Jesus’ suffering as an example that should be followed (1 Peter 2:18 vv), admonishes his listeners to be prepared at all times to answer anyone who asks them to explain the hope that they have in them (1 Peter 3:15).

Reading the words out loud during a Bible study session on Peter a few years ago, I posed the question more directly: “So what would your answer be as a Christian if you were asked today to explain the hope that is in you? And how exactly do you understand this hope that we believe we all carry within us?”

The sudden silence that descended and especially the perplexed, in some cases almost sheepish, look that appeared on peoples’ faces, betrayed that most of them had never really thought about the question, even less about the answer. Then, although hesitantly, a young student put up her hand and ventured this almost confessional answer: “The hope that keeps me going is the firm knowledge that I am forgiven; that although I am weak and fallible, God understands and is willing, every time I come to Him/Her, to offer me a new chance”.

Hearing such an honest and wonderful answer, from a very young person, left me amazed. Then it was my turn to become quiet. The moment she had spoken these words I knew that she had grasped the very essence, the deep comforting heartbeat of the biblical message.

When Jesus came to live with us and specially when He suffered and died on the cross it was not only to demonstrate the full extent of God’s love for humans - its immense range of height, depth and breadth as Paul puts it in Ephes 3:18-19; above all it was to offer to us God’s forgiveness, to remind us that however far and deep we have fallen away from our Creator and our own destiny, however miserable we may feel about this, we may stand up and start all over again today, every day - because we are forgiven!

To know and believe this - is not only the key to new beginnings, to a fresh and confident start in life - it is also the secret of true healing - also of those wounds that we have suffered in our relationships with other people. Receiving forgiveness and also granting it to my adversaries, even when they don’t deserve it, can heal our deepest wounds, over time turning them into nothing more than scars. These scars may indeed remain visible and even sensitive, but they are no longer raw and open, perhaps there remains merely a fading itch.

The secret is that we have discovered the mystery and healing power of love and forgiveness. Then we can also truly explain, especially in this time of Lent, the hope that is in us.

Carel Anthonissen

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