Hope—it’s a scary thing. Most of us have learned how dangerous hope can be. Hope means vulnerability, it’s risky and messy and it sets us up for potential disappointment. Hope means we dare to believe in something that carries no guarantee. If you’re watching the news these days, hope seems like a foolish choice. The politics of our country and the atrocities taking place in our world make hoping for change—real change—seem like a waste.
The prophets of the Bible would say differently, they had a formula and a mandate for hope. Their role was to pass along messages or “oracles” from Yahweh and while the message was often an outlook on the future, it was always discussed with an eye to the present. Prophets never simply forecasted for the sake of sharing the future; they gave an urgent critique of the present coupled with a vision of things to come.
A Look at Moses & Pharaoh
Moses was perhaps the greatest example of this formula. For Pharaoh, Moses’ critique contained both a social and theological directive. The social directive was easy to identify: God’s people would be slaves no longer. In other words, “Let my people go.” Then Moses issued the theological critique, demonstrating through the ten plagues that the Egyptian deities did not have the power or freedom to act, as the Egyptians believed they could. When Pharaoh didn’t respond to the social directive by freeing the Israelites, God used the plagues as a judgment against him and all of Egypt’s gods. The oracle: Yahweh would free the Hebrews and Egypt’s deities had no authority to stop it.
Reflect On the Past, Move Toward Hope
Vision for the future begins with looking back. We must look at what God has done in the past, reviewing scriptural narratives of God’s power and work again and again. We must think back on our own stories, histories, and experiences. Recalling God’s faithfulness in the past emboldens us to respond to the vision of change.
Hoping for change is hard. At the risk of making generalizations, we tend to ridicule hope. It’s easier to forget what God has done for us and accept our current reality than it is to hope for something new. The prophet demands that, mindful of God’s work in the past, we push through our fear and embrace hope. Like the Israelites who crossed the Red Sea and saw their enemies defeated, we crave the joy of a new vision. Yes, we live in depraved world but we must rehearse God’s work in the past and grasp a vision for the reality God offers. This hope, placed in God’s power and authority, this hope is our very best possibility for change.