Heirs of Hopelessness: Our Human Predicament (2)

Scripture puts words to our experiences. It explains the story where we find ourselves. Why does hopelessness feel so common to us? Why does it seem so familiar? It has long been our companion. It has never been a stranger. Hopelessness is our inheritance. We are born into it. It is the norm, not the exception. It is our story.

The first sun rise lit up a world that knew only hope. Eden was the place that literally defined paradise. Abundance surrounded humanity’s parents. A perfect place to live. A unique partner to enjoy. A meaningful job to do. And above all, a gracious God to worship and enjoy. [14]

As this study will show, to know the Triune God is to know hope. Adam and Eve knew hope. They walked with Him. They also lived with the reality that their perfect situation could remain forever. We live on the other side of that reality.

Hope was among the tragic losses of the fall. One forbidden act ruptured the world and dislodged our connection to the Triune God. It ripped us from paradise and left us homeless. Our parents were driven into the land of despair, the only place you and I have ever known.

Theologians have argued that hopelessness was not only the result of the fall, but its cause. “Despondency and despair are sin — indeed they are the origin of all sins. ‘It is not so much sin that plunges us into disaster, as rather despair’, said Chrysostom.’”

Hopelessness is the birth right of sinners. It is the land to which we belong. It is the air we breathe. It is the status of our souls. It is the condition of our futures. Rebellion has plunged the world into a dark night. The Bible paints a bleak picture of life without hope.[15]

“Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called ‘the circumcision,’ which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”[16]

This is a clear biblical description of hopelessness.[17] Paul reminds the Gentile Christians at Ephesus of their origins. He is calling them to remember where they come from. As he does, he confirms our suspicions of the fall narrative.[18] Hopelessness is indeed our lot, unless Hope himself intervenes.

Paul defines hopelessness as the absence of four critical things: God’s Son, God’s people, God’s promises, and God himself.

[14] Genesis 2:1-25

[15] Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of hope: On the ground and implications of a Christian Eschatology. (SCM Press: London, 1967), 7.

[16] Ephesians 2:11-12

[17] Paul uses the phrase “having no hope” (ἐλπίδα μὴ ἔχοντες) in the passage. The closest parallel in the New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 4:13, which speaks of those who grieve “with no hope” (οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα). These are rare occurrences in the New Testament. Both of these texts point to the centrality of the person and work of Jesus for hope.

[18] The context is focused on the Gentile’s helpless estate in contrast to the covenant people of God. The grace of God given to the Israelites highlights Gentile hopelessness. Paul is very clear that the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been demolished and that all the benefits of the covenant people of God belong to the Gentiles in Christ (Ephesians 2:13-22). I am looking at this text from a broader perspective. Hope was not a given for Israel. They were just as hopeless as the Gentiles. God broke into the world with hope and he chose to work that hope in the people of Israel and through them to the nations. Hopelessness was the inheritance of both Jew and Gentile after the fall. This fact is what pushes me to argue for a definition of hopelessness from this text, although it is directly speaking to Gentiles. Prior to Abraham the Israelites were in the exact same situation as the Gentiles. They were separated from Christ and without God. They were not God’s people and did not know the benefits of his covenant.

 

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