Ash Wednesday and Hope in a Hopeless World

Today marks Ash Wednesday on the Church calendar. For many today just another day of work, leisure, and bingeing on Netflix. For others it’s a time of reflection, examination, prayer, confession, fasting, and hope. 

The practice of marking ash on the heads of Christians is to challenge and remember:

  1. Challenge: Repent and believe the gospel.
  2. Remember: You are dust and to dust you will return.

We like no one telling us to repent, change, and believe something. It presses against our individuality and self-autonomy we hold so dear. Let alone someone telling us… you will die and return to the earth.  

But that’s the problem. The reason suicide, depression, and flat-out lack of happiness, are at all time highs (up 24% from 1999-2014). In the land of the free, plenty, and abundance mind you. We believe nothing happens after death and trusting in a Creator and Redeemer is repressive, for the weak minded, and not the path of freedom. “Live, eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die,” is the mantra of the American ethos.

The plethora of TV shows, movies, and media depicting the end of the world, zombie apocalypse, war, and anti-hero characters, like Walter White from Breaking Bad reveal something important. 

We are people with no hope. A culture with no hope falls into greater depression, violence, poverty, and destruction. It’s a fact. 

Examples of Hope

During modern slavery the African American community was an example of hope. Despite the horrendous evil and unjust things done to this community… they lived with hope. A people with a robust theology of a Creator and Redeemer who is making all things new.

Slaves while working the fields, or being whipped and beaten by their owners, would sing, “Negro spirituals.” These simple choruses filled with language of heaven, salvation, freedom, and hope. The time when God would make all things new and things like slavery a distant memory. The day of judgment and the reuniting of loved ones promised. 

You see Lent, and Ash Wednesday, are not only challenges to repent of sin, idolatry, and the ways our hearts love everything but God, and neighbor. Or, a simple reminder we will die, and return to the earth. All good and true things. 

Ash Wednesday is a time to reflect on hope. Where it comes from and why it matters? 

Hope in the Seen

Like the slaves before us we need hope. Not a flimsy hope predicated on government programs, strong leadership, and the abundance of wealth. The African community didn’t have hope in a transformed government. New laws. Or the change of heart in their owners.

The black community had hope in a big God, a future vision of heaven, and justice rolling down from God’s gracious hands. There was a time in America when the majority of people believed they were sinners, going to die, and needed God to come and rescue them. People lived with a sense of weakness and dependence on God and one another.

These roots later replaced with the Enlightenment (1700's - 1960's) and shifting to modern/postmodern philosophy (60's to present). Not all of these shifts are bad per se. But what gets lost is God. Our hope is now in self, science, technology, and the mythical idea of progress (with no moral common ground who determines when progress is being achieved?).

Now we are our own gods and creators of our destiny. You need no one or anything or a God for what matters most in life… me, myself, and I.

Imagine someone says something like: you will have hope when the government gets its act together. You will have hope and happiness when they figure out how to cure all sickness, disease, and death. When technology finds an app for love. Imagine someone says you can be happy if you have the right job, have enough money, and marry the right person. 

Hope in the Unseen

Is this hope? No way. It's all dependent on things that are uncertain and in the end going to die… like you and I. 

Romans eight says,

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." Romans 8:24-25

The writer is tapping into something essential and profound. By definition hope can’t be found in something we can see. Can't be found in the Self. It has to be in something invisible and eternal and something outside of us. Despite not being able to see God with our own eyes now. We know he came into human history and became visible and to display his glory to the world. Jesus made hope visible on the cross and in his triumphant resurrection. Sin, death, and injustice not having the last say. 

Knowing Jesus is to wait for the hope to come because he already secured it in his life, death, and resurrection. 

The start of Lent is a time to reflect on hope. Not a wishy-washy hope in things going away. But a hope rock solid and secured in Jesus. 

Repentance is good. Remembering we are dust is better. But knowing we have hope and a glorious future changes everything. 

Where do you find hope?