Hold Fast to Hope and Be Provocative

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Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for the One who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:23-25)*

Hope. It is hard to hold fast to hope. I rediscovered this text from Hebrews when I was invited by Michael Stadie, Program Director of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), to address their coordinators around the nation at their annual consultation in Chicago. LDR helps communities of people recover from devastating floods, wildfires, tornadoes, and other disasters. This Hebrews text was the focus of their opening devotions. I had been invited to address the way climate change was going to make their work even harder. 

As we know all too well, we face an unprecedented rate of global warming. It is the fastest in the history of our species. If present trends continue, we are on track to experience over 7°F of warming in this century. We are already experiencing the devastating impact of climate change today—from raging wildfires, huge precipitation bursts causing flooding events, and rising sea levels endangering coastlands. All over the world higher temperatures are imperiling the health of the elderly, children, those who have to work outdoors, and those who can’t escape the heat islands in cities. The injustice is that the impacts do not fall equally on all people, but on the most vulnerable who are frequently poor and people of color.

Until recently, many denied global warming and climate change. Now many are adopting a form of climate fatalism. They say ”there’s nothing we can do that will make any difference; it's too late.”  In my experience climate denialism and climate fatalism result in inaction, which preserves the status quo. And who benefits from the status quo?  The denialists and fatalists. We need to open up the crucial space of hope between denialism and fatalism.

I borrow from Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I distinguish between Costly Hope and Cheap, Self-Serving Despair. The writer of Hebrews implores us to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” Confession requires action. We choose to be hopeful. We choose not to give in to the paralysis of despair. We choose to confess our hope that things can and will be better. This brings me to a second key aspect of this brief passage in Hebrews.
Vocation. The author of Hebrews urges the community to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Christians are called not only to confess our hope but to act on it through works of love. Many of us don’t like people who provoke us, but here it is a good thing. To “provoke” others to love and good deeds is to encourage (pro) their vocation (vocatio). And what is our vocation?  I like to describe it as “the care and redemption of all that God has made.”

  • We need to provoke each other to address climate change.
  • We need to provoke each other to help those who are vulnerable to climate change.
  • We need to provoke each other to hold fast to hope.

The Brazilian liberation theologian, Rubem A. Alves sums up this passage from Hebrews very well: "Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it."

* I am using a translation of this passage by my good friend and colleague, Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

Jim Martin-Schramm

Jim Martin-Schramm

Jim Martin-Schramm joined the Religion faculty at Luther College in 1993. He is an ordained member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and has a doctorate in Christian Ethics from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Most of his scholarship has focused on issues related to ethics and public policy, and a lot of his recent work has been in energy and climate policy. He spent most of his youth growing up in Germany and South Africa because his father worked for John Deere. Those years gave him a global perspective that has influenced his career in various ways. He has been involved in various campus sustainability initiatives at Luther and is active in organizations in Iowa working on climate change and energy issues. He currently serves as the Director of Luther's Center for Sustainable Communities.

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