Arie Brouwer, Reformed theologian and former general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, former deputy general of the World Council of Churches, and former general secretary of the National Council of Churches, was diagnosed with a terminal illness nearly 25 years ago. When interviewed, Brouwer said: “This experience of hope in spite of everything is to me even more important than the experience of faith in spite of everything.”
Brouwer’s words, spoken in the midst of one of life’s harshest realities, seems to say it all. His words remind me of the existentialist Camus’: “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” His words also remind me of Thornton Wilder’s sentiment: “All that we know about those we have loved and lost is that they would wish us to remember them with more intensified realization of their reality. What is essential does not die but clarifies. The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.”
“This experience of hope in spite of everything,” is what the Christian faith offers us when there is no remedy in sight. “This experience of hope in spite of everything,” is what led God’s only child to the cross. When he said, “It is finished,” he spoke about the reality of death and the bitter truth that his life was all over. But even in the midst of the bitter reality of death, that ‘in spite of everything’ phrase, “Into thy hands I commit my spirit,” was a turning over of everything Jesus was to God offering the promise of what was yet to come.
I cannot help but think of that text from the book of Chronicles where, in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction and the exile of the people to Babylon, the Chronicler writes: “. . . the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy” [2 Chronicles 36:16]. A few verse later at the end of the book, the Chronicler goes from a position of ‘no remedy’ to an ‘in spite of everything’ note of hope, saying the time will come when the people will be released from captivity, the Temple will be rebuilt, and the faithful shall go back to Jerusalem [2 Chronicles 36:22-23]. And so it was with the reign of Cyrus. Hope was restored in spite of everything.
Always remember that when the bottom falls out, when the light flickers, when the end draws near, when there is ‘no exit’ in sight, when the earth trembles and the mountains move, when love is lost – the experience of hope remains in spite of everything. Dante, in his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, “The Inferno,” writes of hell: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” Dante knew that once hope is lost there is nothing but hell.
One of the greatest responsibilities of the church and its ministry is to keep hope alive. It was hope that led Christ to the cross. It was hope that led Christ from the cross to Easter Day. And it is hope that will always fill the faithful with glimpses of eternity. May your Easter and your eternity be filled with hope!