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Finding hope in the cemetery
By Don Blosser ’59, professor of Bible

It had been a very tough couple of years. The traditional, comfortable symbols were being lost, and it looked as though life would never be the same. Some people were even asking whether there was any hope that the people of God would survive. After all they had been through, maybe this was the end.

Ezekiel found himself drawn once more to the same quiet cemetery where he had been going to find solitude. This probably was where his own wife had been buried, where his personal hopes and dreams for the future had been painfully laid to rest. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps the future of Israel was being buried here in this strange land. There didn’t seem to be much interest in either repentance (for what?) or renewal (of what?) in the life of Israel. Their identity, their way of life, their confidence and their faith had been shattered. What Babylon had done to them was not supposed to happen. After all, they were God’s people and deserved better. Is it possible that the nation could survive this tragedy?

In this cemetery, God asks, “Ezekiel, do you see any hope here?” (Son of man, can these bones live? Ez. 37:3). Ezekiel’s grief and despair whispers the way many of us are feeling… “Lord, no human being can find hope here, only you can see that.” (Lord, you alone know that.)

I can imagine a modern Ezekiel sitting at “Ground Zero” in New York or Washington, D.C., or in Pennsylvania wondering to himself, “How can anything good come from this?” We have all wondered that same thing. How we react in the aftermath of tragedy says a lot about to whom we turn when we feel helpless and how we expect the future to be built again.

Today our strong feelings lead to strong and hostile language. People replace “hope” statements with “believe” concepts. We often have done this in the past, reaffirming what we believe about God in an attempt to reassure ourselves that the future is secure. If these “believe” statements truly represent our faith, then it seems to me that we should trust in that God. But persons making such statements often turn to the government and military to make the future livable for them (often by making the future unlivable for others).

Where do we go in times of fear and despair to have our faith strengthened? Where is the source of our hope? After more than 20 years of teaching Biblical Literature, text after text and story after story run through my mind where hope literally springs to life out of the seeming despair and tragedy that struck first Israel and then the new faith community of Jesus.

King David paints a delightful contrast in Psalm 11. There is danger all around and his friends advise him to flee because the situation is hopeless, yet David affirms his steadfast trust in God. He admits that people are shooting at him and that his friends are asking, “When all hope is gone, when the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Surely David is fighting a lost cause. The moral and theological foundations of society are crumbling under the evil that people do to each other. Where does David find the courage to continue on? His response is indeed comforting: “The Lord is in his holy temple … the Lord examines the righteous … the Lord is righteous and loves justice, and the upright will see God’s face.”

For David, the source of hope is forcefully influenced by where you focus. We have heard a great deal about the evil that is being done to us – with the frequent implication that there is no logical reason for it – but for David, focusing on the evil in the world leads to despair because there is so much of it. When we affirm again our belief that ultimately it is not evil that controls the world but God, then we can see that God is still bringing redemption and healing. The world changes, but God remains.

What dominates our thinking these days? Certainly there are reports of food being dropped for refugees and many stories of people making heroic sacrifices and helping others get through their grief. We even see a slight upswing in religious practices. But overwhelmingly, the focus is on the unjustified evil done unto us and how we who are righteous must punish those terrible people who have done these things.

Does the word of hope from David speak to us as well? Our hope rests in the assurance that God does not run away and hide, that God can be counted upon to be there in our time of grief and pain and that, ultimately, hope rests in God.
What does hope do for us? Hope is a great motivator. But David, deeply rooted his hope in the belief that God had not left him – therefore he could not leave God. Our culture is committed to returning the world to the way it was before Sept. 11. The hope that David found in God is that we will create a new world that is more just and more loving. It will be better than what we had before because hope calls us to create a new world, not simply to restore the old world.

If we believe that God is still on the throne, then we have no time to get involved in retaliation and destruction. We struggle with the concern about whether God has left us, when our primary response should be to ask whether we have left God. When we affirm with David that God is still in His temple, then God’s vision for a better world where peace, justice and love dominate calls us to do the things of God. In that way, nothing has changed even though everything has changed.
We also find hope along the road. One day Jesus was sitting with his disciples. Things had not been going well – some people who had followed Jesus were rejecting him, choosing to search for simpler answers. Jesus turned to the 12 disciples, and in a moment of discouragement, asked “Maybe you want to leave, too?”
As was usually the case, Peter spoke for the group: “Why would we do that? Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”(John 6:68)
Perhaps, in our own days of searching and questioning, Peter’s answer reaffirms the hope that lives within us. It just might be that tragedies like this force us to rethink our own faith and values. The world turns up the volume with its solutions on how to handle tragedy, and many are tempted to leave their faith foundations for these violent, quick solutions. We still need Peter to remind us that “you (Jesus) have the words of eternal life.” Failing to stay rooted in Jesus only leads to destruction.
Hope is not a shallow fantasy of how we might get everything we want, nor is it a childhood daydream about presents under the tree. Hope is the motivating factor for action. Hope is the vision of what might be – of new life springing from death, of new buildings being built out of the rubble, of new relationships being formed.
Jesus calls us to live in the day-to-day reality of this world, recognizing that sometimes terrible things happen to people who really don’t deserve it. But throughout the Bible the call rings clear: tragic events do not derail God’s divine vision of creating a new community of God’s people that reaches all humanity.
Jesus calls us to live in hope, and we move into the future. This hope that comes from God dreams not of destroying people but of creating new relationships. This hope is built not on the injustices of the past but on the vision of God’s will being realized in our midst. This hope comes alive again out of the affirmation that God is still on the throne, that Jesus still has the words of eternal life and that, ultimately, the nations of this earth are not the dominant shapers of history – that belongs to God.
There is evidence all around us that everything has changed, and to some degree that is true. Yet hope lives very deeply within the human spirit. Ezekiel’s dry bones did rise – and they danced. When we believe that God is alive and active, then we can sit down together – even with our enemies – and share the hope that we have for a more just and equitable future. In that conversation we might learn some things from our enemies, we might help them more correctly understand us, and together we might find a way to adjust our lives so that we can find space to tolerate each other without having to kill each other. That would give us reason for hope that maybe some day we can live together as human beings.

Don Blosser retired from full-time teaching at Goshen College at the end of the 2000-2001 school year; he continues to teach a college course and to serve GC through the CALL grant as an itinerant ambassador for the college.

Return to December Bulletin contents
About this issue – Stretching our hands toward hope - Editor Rachel Lapp
The end is the beginning – “A contagion of hope”
- President Shirley H. Showalter
Finding hope in the cemetery
- Don Blosser, professor of Bible
'Last hope' brings new life (times three)
- Ryan Miller interviews Jenny Jenkins, assistant professor of Biology
Hope in the final act: It's our scene
- Alan '62 and Eleanor '57 Kreider
'God is still right beside me': A faith walk with MS
- Ryan Miller interviews Kim Kulp Birk '98

In search of hope
- Brian R. Hook '93
Alumni in New York City reflect on 9-11
- Mervin Horst '84, Malinda E. Berry '96

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