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II Timothy 2:15

Hope and Despair

I’ve been wanting to watch this movie, First Reformed,  for a while. I’ve always admired Ethan Hawke’s ability to inhabit a role and the premise of this movie is deep and challenging. I will say, upfront, that it is not for the weak of heart… but then, neither is the crucifixion nor a typical look outside the front door. It is dark, brooding, and serious as a heart attack.
First Reformed is admirable because it tries to take an honest look at the challenge of living as an empathetic and honest person of faith in a terribly broken world. The movie is summed up by a conversation during a counseling session. Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Toller is comforting and attempting to mentor a troubled young man who is overwhelmed by the desperate state of our world and fearful of bringing a child into it. Reverend Toller recognizes the truth of the almost apocalyptic nature of today’s world but is also compelled by his faith to reach for hope:
Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind simultaneously: hope and despair. A life without despair is a life without hope. Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself.”
Toller is not speaking from a place outside of despair. He is almost as troubled as this young man. In his little church, he tries to speak the truth while the town’s megachurch preaches about a hope that simply ignores the reality of the world outside its doors.
I won’t give any spoilers. The movie provides an almost sickening journey through despair but, eventually, demonstrates the superior power of hope.
I can identify with Hawke’s Toller. He’s far more reactive than I am and perhaps has more faith. Each day I struggle with the reality of living in a world that seems irreparably broken and a religious club, masquerading as Christ’s hands and feet in the world, that contributes more to its brokenness than to binding up its wounds.
Christ calls us to this struggle:
– Some find hope by pretending that a simple formulaic belief system will walk behind us, cleaning up our mess. This is the essence of false hope. It doesn’t lead to the “abundant life” that Jesus calls us to.
– Some inject the despair into their bloodstream and give themselves over to a spirit of futility.
Neither of these roads will lead us to healing or a fuller connection with our Creator and our neighbor. I walked the first path for decades but it was almost always clearly a house of mirrors. I often find myself stuck in the rut of the second path. In that journey, hope seems impossible to reach and a distant oasis that I suspect doesn’t really exist.
Jesus, even in the midst of my addiction to negativity and criticism, calls me to a sustainable and hopeful path. He doesn’t want us to be blind to the brokenness of the world but he does call us to recognize that God will, in His timing, restore all things. He doesn’t excuse us to use that promise to do harm. He calls us to embrace that hope and let it give us the strength to make a positive difference.

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