The word “but” is one of those words no one wants to hear right after someone says to you … I love you, I’m sorry, or I think you are a really great person. It is something I like to refer to as a “yes, but” statement. I’m sure you can think of people who have dropped the “yes, but” on you. I’m also sure you can think of a time or two you’ve dropped one on another–I know I can. It is easy to do. It is the having your cake and eating it too of interpersonal communication. We want to make the other person feel better, make ourselves feel better, or ease the tension of a conversation….but we also want to make sure our point is understood, our agenda is being met, or our conscious is left guilt free. The problem is a “yes, but” statement always creates a contradiction regarding the true emotions, feelings, or intentions of the speaker. It devalues the speaker’s credibility and confuses the hearer—who will likely end up unconvinced.
In my experience, I have found there to be a bit of a “yes, but” attitude among Christians today. It is an attitude that we all can be sympathetic towards. The world we live in is broken. We’ve all endured suffering. We’ve all experienced loss. It is tough to look at the evils that take place on this planet and not wish at times to just sink down to the ground and give up on it all. It is an attitude that is bound to wash over everyone once and a while. However, trouble arises when this attitude begins to cling to us, becomes natural to us, or is left unchecked and unconfessed for a long period of time. As our lives pass the fear of suffering, loss, death, evil, and ugliness in humanity slowly becomes the thing we expect. And if even more time passes, in which the incarnational truth and hope found in the New Testament washes away such pessimism, fear becomes the only outcome we will see as possible. Once a person comes to expect that for now fear/death will always prevail on earth, the gospel becomes a story about hoping in heaven, rather than placing our hope in our promised new earth and our coming resurrection.
Pierre Teilhard’s hope is that which continues to amaze me when read his works. This isn’t solely because of what he says or teaches regarding our future hope, it is because of the way he embodies such a hope. He is audacious enough to imagine a future in which humanity unites, loves, and manifests Christ on earth. Sadly, even as I’m writing about his hopeful ideals, I can feel a “yes, but” trying to creep into my preconditioned thoughts.
It sounds something like this: “While, of course I believe that Christians will someday unite, love, and fully manifest Christ on earth …. but it won’t ever fully be realized through us…well, at least not until Jesus comes back and finishes everything he didn’t finish on the cross” That last bit should feel like fingernails on a chalkboard and although you may never have heard a Christian confess such an appalling statement, it is what we are insinuating when we tag on a ‘but’ after speaking about Christ’s message of the Kingdom come, isn’t it? How is this acceptable to us? Christ on the cross is the center, the fulfillment, the reconciliation, the salvation, and the most beautiful act self-sacrificial love that will ever be known. Hope is found when we look at the cross, hear our Lord utter ‘It is finished,’ and then love one another so outlandishly that fear must flee from our presence. The hope Christ came to incarnate, teach, and die for simply cannot exist within a “yes, but” statement. To follow up the hope of the gospel with a “but” is to surrender our faith as hopeless.
I am a far cry from embodying hope the way Teilhard does. I also know that he struggled with this vision of hope after serving in WW1 (a topic I will discuss at a later time). I still struggle everyday to affirm the truth that on the cross it truly was ‘finished.’ I look around my life, the church, the world and find it hard to not to find it an impossible notion that God’s Kingdom could ever fully be realized on this very planet. There are times though, moments of fleeting wonder, in which even just for a few mere seconds I allow hope to overwhelm me. A true sense of hope, a pure and child-like hope, and such beauty has the power to take the breath right out of my lungs. It is akin to trying to imagine the end of the universe, eternity, or infinity. These times or moments most often come to me when reading Teilhard, in fact I’m not certain I had felt such hope ever before discovering him. His hope is contagious and intoxicating. Jesus came, lived, and died for a hope—the hope to see God’s Kingdom come to earth (not the other way around). Teilhard shamelessly mirrors this hope. I would give anything to live in such a state.
As I said earlier, Teilhard’s teaching doesn’t center on the idea of hope—it is more embedded in all his other thoughts. I continue to emphasize it however—especially early on in the series—because without a willingness on our part to try to imagine the incarnational hope of the kingdom come, we will never truly be able to open our minds and learn from what his message to us is. I want Christ-followers to become desperately hungry for such a Christ-like hope. If we say we have hope, but then claim our hope is in a ‘there’ rather than the ‘here’ it seems to me we are failing to preach the gospel.
“I believe that the world will never be converted to Christianity’s hopes of heavens, unless first Christianity is converted to the hopes of the earth.” Teilhard
Teilhard, . C. P. (1968). Science and Christ. New York: Harper & Row.p.127