Borrowing from the Unitarian reformer (yes, such a thing exists) Theodore Parker, in several of his famous speeches, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered this reflection on the hope of the Civil Rights Movement.
Given the time in which he lived, it would have been easy for Dr. King to give up that hope. It wasn’t just your run of the mill racists who seemed to be working against the bend toward justice, but governments, and even entire denominations were working hard to keep this nation that was founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” from ever making that foolish claim in the Declaration of Independence a reality.
Some 50 years later, Parker’s original quote seems more apt than even the Dr. King paraphrase, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” In a nation where angry rhetoric is spilling over into actual violence, it is hard to see much hope beyond the horizon that the arc toward justice creates. I can honestly say that in my own thoughts, at times, I wonder if there really is any hope in the sort of peace that comes when every human being is afforded the rights and responsibilities of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I fear that my children will only know a world of bitterness, anger, vitriol, and violence.
Thanks be to God, that at just the right time, I am reminded to never give up hope. This week’s short lesson from Romans, though used to great damage by religious leaders who send battered wives back to their husbands or keep whole peoples from rising up against oppression because “we should boast in our suffering,” can and should be redeemed by the telos of our collective suffering. For all who struggle with hope, for all who wonder if justice will ever roll down, for all who lament the violence and the fear mongering, Paul offers these words:
“suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
The reason we continue to hope, despite growing evidence to the contrary, is because God’s love is at work in the world. This isn’t some ethereal claim of ooey-gooey love without substance, but the reality that God’s love has hands and feet and hearts through the Holy Spirit given to each of us in baptism. We who claim to be disciples of Jesus are, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the agents of hope in the world. We are they who should be calling for justice. We are they who should be working for peace. We are they who should be offering compassion. We, who can see only as far as the horizon, with the help of the Holy Spirit, must continue to work to bring the end of the arc into focus.
In times like these, hope can be difficult, but with God’s help, we who continue to hope and work for a just society will not be disappointed.