Soon after we overcome the anxiety of needing spiritual quick-fixes—thus setting our sights on a long-term journey of growth, depth and maturity—the difficult, and at times, demoralizing reality of such a journey becomes apparent. If I will bear much fruit over a long and steady process of growth, it means that I will not “arrive” by tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. To embrace a process of growth entails allowing the illusions of achieving spiritual prowess in a short span of time, of imminently overcoming all struggles, or being a member of the spiritually-elite must collapse to the floor in a shattering crash. Left standing without such illusions propping us up, the deflation of confidence can result in a moderate to severe depression. We might on one hand feel relief from the pressure to have arrived by tomorrow, but at the same time we realize that such attainment is significantly beyond our present reach and certainly outside of our immediate control. The strong emotional responses to such a realization indicates a significant misplacement of our hope as Christians. We hope for a near day when we can be free from the troubles that beset us. We hope for a soon time when the Christian life will not be a struggle. We hope in illusions about our own spiritual state and progress and thus approach collapse upon the discovery of their fallacious nature.
With our illusions swept out of the way, we come face to face with our own barrenness, the death and decay marring our existence on almost every level. Our hope cannot be set on our spiritual achievement – but on the God who brings order into existence out of nothing (creator ex nihilo) and gives life to the dead. In our spiritual journey, we have not been “set at the high noon of life, but at the dawn of a new day at the point where night and day grapple with each other. Hence the believer does not simply take the day as it comes, but looks beyond the day to the things which according to the promise of him who is the creator ex nihilo and raiser of the dead are still to come.” Our own struggles and barrenness do not intimidate or challenge God. Neither do they determine the course of our future. For belief in the God who creates out of nothing necessitates we understand the future to have possibilities in distinct discontinuity with the present.
“The spell of the dogma of hopelessness – ex nihilo nihil fit (out of nothing, nothing comes) – is broken where he who raises the dead is recognized to be God. Where in faith and hope we begin to live in the light of the possibilities and promises of this God, the whole fullness of life discloses itself as a life of history and therefore a life to be loved. Only in the perspective of this God can there possibly be more than philia, love to the existent and the like – namely, agape, love to the non-existent, love to the unlike, the unworthy, the worthless, to the lost, the transient and the dead; a love that can take upon it the annihilating effects of pain and renunciation because it receives its power from hope of a creation ex nihilo. Love does shut its eyes to the non-existent and say it is nothing, but becomes itself the magic power that brings it into being. In its hope, love surveys the open possibilities of history. In love, hope brings all things into the light of the promises of God.” (Theology of Hope, Jurgen Moltmann, 31-32)
A recognition of our own need and lack may initially be demoralizing, but in fact contains within itself a most remarkable possibility. By bringing our own unworthiness, our own lostness, our own transience and death “into the light of the promises of God,” their permanence is broken. We no longer have to pretend such death does not exist and neither do we need to fool ourselves into thinking it will be gone tomorrow. Rather, through faith in the God who raises the dead, having our hope truly set on Him, we are able to extend agape love to the reality that exists within ourselves, which is nothing more than receiving love from God in truth. With our illusions gone, we can offer much needed acceptance to our broken selves, a self which had gone for much time under the heavy yoke of self-rejection, self-scorn and self-hatred. Such self-hatred came in the form of delusional spiritual ideals, which though looking noble, all the while were scorning the true broken self which lie concealed behind them.
“An acceptance of the present which cannot and will not see the dying of the present is an illusion and a frivolity – and one which cannot be grounded on eternity either. The hope that is staked on the creator ex nihilo becomes the happiness of the present when it loyally embraces all things in love, abandoning nothing to annihilation but bringing to light how open all things are to the possibilities in which they can live and shall live.”