But a loss of optimism does not have to mean a loss of hope. Optimism, after all, is rooted in me and my abilities; it’s the expectation of a better future based on the reading of present circumstances. Hope, on the other hand, is the trustful anticipation of genuine newness, perhaps beyond our imagining, based on something much bigger than ourselves — for people of faith, it’s based on the divine.
One of my favorite verses is 1 John 4:16, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” It is, for me, not only a hopeful verse, but also a verse of hope.
After all, God’s love is given to all. Not all of a certain nation or race or religion. All. And not only all people. Surely we can tell that God’s love abides in other animals and the plants, the fauna and the flora.
An interesting note about God’s love and its connection to our hope is that God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates it. We are loved not because we have value, but we have value because we are loved. Our value, like God’s love, is a gift and not an achievement.
Maybe that’s the first reason that Jesus commands us to love our enemies: God loves them too. Notice that the very same sentence in which Jesus commands us to love our enemies goes on to say “for God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”
If you have stepped foot in a church very often you likely have sung about “a wideness in God mercy” and “one great fellowship divine throughout the whole wide earth.” If so, you have affirmed God’s impartial love for all people, with no special privileges only for some.
In other words, you have affirmed as have I that “God Bless America” means “God Bless North Korea” and Russia and Mexico and so on. The biblical truth is that there is no special providence for any nation at the expense of any others. Territorial discrimination is as evil as racial.
It’s important to remember in this affirmation of God’s unboundable love, that God’s love does not mean God’s approval. I don’t know that God hates, but if God did I suspect the object of that hate would be hateful things. Carnage. Racism. Xenophobia. I suspect they turn God’s stomach, even make God mad. Certainly they must make God sad.
That’s what makes freedom so tricky, it seems to me. If God’s love is real, then our freedom is real. We are not slaves or puppets but children of God, free to do good and free to sin. Unloving choices are sometimes made.
When in anguish over human violence we turn to God and ask, “How could you let that happen?”, I sometimes wonder if God asks us the same question.