I was reading a chapter of a book by John Piper this week, and it discussed the importance of this verse:
‘For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.’ (1 Thessalonians 5: 9-10)
The author paraphrased this to be God saying: ‘whatever happens, live or die, you will be with me’.
He then went on to discuss the impact of this on our lives, particularly around the subject of hope. He explained: ‘The object of hope is the future. The experience of hope is in the present. And that present experience is powerful, so hope is power in the present – it changes things now.’ I wonder if we experience hope like that? Does it really make any difference to us in the here and now? I know for me hope can somehow morph into some kind of anxious fixation – ‘I hope this happens’ or ‘I hope this doesn’t happen’. Although I use the word hope, I don’t actually think it is hope at all – it is sitting there in anxiety about the future, rather than getting on in the present with a settled confidence about the future. The hope described above is an entirely different kind of hope that can make even our third lockdown in the middle of winter purposeful. It can get us out of bed in the morning and give meaning to daily life, even if that daily life is much more restricted.
As always, I read the same verse in The Message. But this time, it wasn’t the verse that stood out, but the introduction page to the whole of 1/2 Thessalonians. Here are a few of the bits that really stood out to me:
‘The way we conceive the future sculpts the present, gives contour and tone to nearly every action and thought through the day. If our sense of future is weak, we live listlessly.’ I wonder if that last sentence rings any bells with us in our current situation? In one sense this quote makes it perfectly understandable why some of us feel listless – our sense of the future is weak. But only if we are thinking about the immediate future over the next few months – when can I see this person, when can I go on holiday, when can I stop wearing a face mask, when can I give someone a hug etc. But if we think about our heavenly future then it is incredibly strong and can impact our present, despite the fact that our present is currently in lockdown.
The introduction section in the Message goes on to say:
‘The practical effect of this belief is to charge each moment of the present with hope. For if the future is dominated by the coming again of Jesus, there is little room left on the screen for projecting our anxieties and fantasies. It takes the clutter out of our lives. We’re far more free to respond spontaneously to the freedom of God.’
The pandemic and the cycle of lockdowns and restrictions has not changed the fact that Jesus died for us or that He is coming back. It has not changed our future and it has not taken away our hope, so it has not taken away our present either. We can live with all the power and freedom described in some of the quotes above right now, ironically - in the midst of restrictions.
The last verse I was drawn to when thinking about this, was Jeremiah 29:11 – a good place to finish:
‘ “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” ‘
Let’s not lose our sense of hope and future in all of this. If we can keep hold of the bigger picture, we need not lose our purpose in the present.
 ‘Coronavirus and Christ’ by John Piper, Crossway Books, 2020