Is it just my imagination, or has the last 10 days been one of the most alarming times in the recent past? Doesn’t it seem like the train of humanity is coming off the rails? And what does faith have to offer in a time of violence, war and inhuman treatment of one another? Hope.
A passenger plane is shot out of the Ukranian skies using a technology that could only be used or taught by the Russians, who claim that their fingerprints are nowhere near the weapon. The crime scene is compromised, the bodies of the victims are profaned by inattention, and credit cards are pilfered from the pockets of the dead and used to run up charges online.
Optimism is having confidence that human beings, on their own, can and will do the right thing. Hope is having confidence that in the end, God will do the right thing, and with God’s help, so can we.
Israelis and Palestinians are once again locked in a death grip with one another in sheer disregard for what everyone knows: the future of each of the combatant nations is bound to the safety and well-being of the other side. Hamas is a brutal and long-standing monster that most Palestinians would gladly steer clear of, if they weren’t the only ones seeming to stand up for the rights of Palestinians. The lives and peace of southern Israel are shattered by rockets fired from Gaza and suicide bombers infiltrating Israel through tunnels. Israel, the Goliath in this war, bombards Gaza —the most densely populated place on earth—with seeming disregard for civilians who have no connection to those rockets. Helpless women and children are bombed in a U.N. shelter, and the overall toll passes 1,000. It’s like watching someone shoot fish in an overcrowded barrel. And no one seems to want to stop.
In our own country, we have 50,000 unaccompanied minors at our southern border, refugees from unspeakable violence and death in their own countries, and the richest nation on earth can’t muster the compassion to offer asylum and shelter. Instead, many members of Congress want to void the human trafficking bill that poses the only hope of these refugees getting a fair hearing of their asylum claims. Flights deporting them back to the danger from which they fled leave at 1:00 in the morning so that no lawyer or do-gooder can intervene to stop it.
As the only industrialized nation that still uses capital punishment, we can’t even get that right. A man sentenced to death struggles and suffers for nearly two hours due to a faulty drug cocktail, long enough that his lawyers have time to file a desist-and-revive claim before he finally breathes his last breath.
Meanwhile, the do-nothing Congress collects pay for a job they’re not doing. Partisan bickering in Congress has kept ambassadors to Russia and Guatemala (and fourth of all ambassadors) from being confirmed places where we really need them right now. In the 50th summer after the fight for voter rights in the South, that fight is being waged all over again, with myriad maneuvers by some to limit the access by racial minorities to exercise this most basic American and human right to vote. Many people quote quack “scientists” in a desperate attempt to deny climate change and our role in it. (Facts don’t seem to matter anymore.) And the governor of Texas sends the National Guard to the border, where they are not wanted or needed, for no apparent purpose other than to strengthen that governor’s chances of becoming president of the United States.
As Anne Murray sang years ago, “Sure could use a little good news today.” Or as our Jewish brothers and sisters would say, Oy! And worse. So, in the midst of all this chaos and cruelty to one another, what difference does having faith make?
In the face of all this inhumanity, I’ve felt driven to reviewing what I believe about God. These are generally the same things that every world religion purports to believe about God, but my beliefs, of course, come out of my own Christian tradition. I’ll trust those of other religions to make the connections.
1. God’s heart must break over what we are doing to one another. While God is above and beyond our human emotions, God is certainly not less than human in being able to feel sadness, pain and righteous anger at what God’s children are doing to one another. God suffers along with those children on the border, those passengers plummeting to the earth to their deaths, and the men, women and children of Israel/Palestine who are the victims of an intractable hatred for one another.
2. God is always and everywhere working for the good of humankind, for acts of compassion and love, and for the well-being of all of God’s children. But because we are created free, and not puppets, God has limited God’s self to act only in and through the children created in God’s image. And if there is Evil in the world, alongside God’s Good, then it whispers in our ear, “You’re only one person. There’s nothing you can do about it.” A feeling of helplessness and its resulting paralysis are the enemy of the Good.
3. What I learn from the story of Good Friday and Easter is that God can bring good out of anything bad. As counterintuitive as it might seem, belief in God keeps me believing that resurrection from a deadly situation is possible, that we can do something about the evil around us, and that one person plus another person plus another person can accomplish amazing things. And my faith tells me that at the end of the day—whenever that day actually arrives)—love wins. God wins. And all shall be well. Oddly enough, knowing how it all ends doesn’t make me complacent, but rather quite the opposite. It gives me the strength and resolve to commit myself to bringing that good end about.
It is time for people of faith to stand up and be counted. We need to start speaking the truth to one another and to the world. Rather than lobbying for the right to discriminate and telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies, religious leaders should lead in the ways of peace and justice for all, because without justice, the children will keep coming to our borders, the occupied Palestinians will keep supporting an organization that works against their best chance for peace, and we will be ruled by demagogues who cheapen our democracy.
There is a difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is having confidence that human beings, on their own, can and will do the right thing. Hope is having confidence that in the end, God will do the right thing, and with God’s help, so can we. As for me, I’ll go with hope.
The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and the retired Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Follow him on Twitter @BishopGRobinson.