Zach Tucker was seven years old when his parents heard the worst news they could imagine. It started with a simple question posed by his mother while they were on a family vacation, “Zach, why aren’t you using your left hand as you play ball?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “It isn’t working right.” They didn’t think much of it and continued with their vacation plans, knowing that they’d check in with their doctor when they got home. Check in, they did, and were given an appointment to see a neurologist several weeks later, the earliest date they could get an appointment.
Zach got worse and his parents knew something was wrong. So, they insisted that they be seen right away. To their horror, they discovered that their seven year old son had a rare brain tumor that would eventually kill him.
The story of the Tucker family unfolds with journeys to the hospital, surgical procedures on Zachary, and frantic attempts to manage medications. They watched with horror as their once active and athletic son faded into the folds of cancer. His was an aggressive form. The Tuckers are a family of faith. They cried out to God in prayer and begged for mercy. Eleven months later, he was dead. (Zach’s Story is told at http://givinghopethroughfaith.org/zachs-story.html)
And what are we to make of this? What does it mean that our loved ones die as we beg for mercy?
This is the question that dogs us as people of faith, is it not? Where is God in the dark hours of despair? When we are lost in the throes of despair how do we find our way? From where do we find our hope?
The Tuckers wrestled with these questions as surely as we do when faced with tragedy. Hope through faith, they say, got them through their darkest hours. Hope through Faith. When wandering the halls of hospital and empty home, they clung to the hope they had in the work of Jesus Christ to sustain them in their darkest days.
The late Anglican Bishop, Lesslie Newbigin, reminds that Christian Hope in the coming kingdom of God sustains the Christian in times of trouble. He tells the story of the British Explorer, Robert Falcon Scott, as an example of how hope functions in times of wandering and desperation. Scott led a three year expedition to the South Pole in 1910, hoping to be the first explorer to reach it. Reach it, they did, but thirty three days after Norwegian explorers planted their flag on the coveted spot. Dejectedly, they began the long trek back to their ships, a trip they’d never complete. Scott’s journey is recorded in his journal and documented by other papers he and his crew carried with them as they returned from the pole. It is a story of desperation and tragedy that eventually led to the death of the entire party, Scott included.
At one point of Scott’s expedition to the pole,”…the weather conditions were such that a white hazed blended with the unbroken whiteness of the snow and no horizon was visible. Wherever they looked there was simply unbroken whiteness. There was no point on which they could direct their course as they drove their sledges forward. Before long, they were coming upon their own tracks. Thinking that they were going forward, they were in fact only going around in a great circle. To solve the problem, they began throwing snowballs ahead of them in the direction they hoped to go, so that they had something to fix their eyes on…” (Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 109-110)
Newbigin goes on to say that in practice, Christians do what Scott did. We throw things forward in times of difficulty, in order to keep our bearing in times of confusion and despair.
In faith, the Tucker family heard the call of Christ to serve others in their time of despair. They picked up Zach’s empty Christmas stocking and asked people to join them in filling it with gift cards for the needy. Trusting that God was sustaining them in their grief, they sought to be partners with God in caring for others who were wandering in this world, uncertain of God’s provisions. They were casting snowballs in the direction of their hope, gathering help for the needy, trusting that in doing so they were giving witness to the hope that sustained them.
I don’t know why God has not put an end to suffering in this world. But as I enter into the scriptures and live in the stories of the faith that sustain us, I find that God is constantly working to make right all the things of this world that are not as they ought to be. God’s goal is to create a world in which God’s way of peace, justice, and love are fully known and lived. Toward this goal, we press on.
We call that goal The Kingdom of God. As we pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we pray to God and beg of him, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This prayer gives us direction in this chaotic world. It reminds us that God always has a desired outcome for this broken world, a hoped-for-destination toward which God calls us and all of creation. Though we struggle with things we cannot understand and though tragedy falls among us, we are never aimlessly tossed about, but given hope that in Jesus God is working toward establishing God’s kingdom in this world.
We wait for it as we journey along in our faith. We pick up projects like the food pantry and clothing closet in attempts to keep us oriented toward God’s desired kingdom. It’s not here yet, but we know that when it is nobody will be hungry or go without adequate clothing. So we stock the shelves, fold clothes and open the doors to those in need, not believing that we’ll save the world through it, but trusting that we are throwing snowballs toward God’s desired outcome in this world. We do these ministries and more as expressions of the hope we have in God who is bringing a new world into existence.
No, I don’t know why bad things happen. But I do know that the Jesus we meet in the stories of scripture is one who enters into the real struggles of this world. He is beaten and battered by the cruelties and injustices that meet us all. And he labors under them just as we do… to the point of crying out in despair – in real terror and pain he cried out, begging God to be with him. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
And this Jesus is the beginning of God making all things as God hopes they will be. Even while Jesus cries out, God is at work. Hidden in the pain and suffering, God is quietly working new life, preparing the grave to be a place for new life, redeeming the cry of his suffering son, beating back the powers that work against him. God will continue to do this until God’s kingdom is finally and fully in this world.
In that day, cancer will be beaten, explorers will always return home, our homes will always be places of safety, illness will be no more, death will be conquered. God’s economy will be in place: the tables of the formerly poor will be laden with food and clothing. God’s kingdom will be here.
Christian hope matters, greatly. For this reason, the prophet Zechariah called to the people of Israel while they labored in the bondage of the exile. He named them prisoners of hope, while declaring the freedom that would be theirs.
Prisoners of hope. That’s who we are in Christ. We wait and pray that God’s kingdom would come. We throw snowballs toward that hope, to keep our bearing when it’s hard to see. And we believe that there will be a day that the things of this world will become as God hopes them to be.
Photo entitled “Are You Sure There’s More Road?” by Bruce Guenter. Used by permission under Creative Common’s (CC by 2.0) License.