Summary: Christian hope is not pie in the sky but founded on the concrete reality of what has been promised by God.
Has anyone seen The Postman. It’s a bit old now, it was released a few years ago. And while it comes from a good book, the movie does boil down to a new setting for Kevin Costner to play the same character he played in every other movie he’s ever been in. But in this movie, the self-centred guy who cares nothing for anyone else until he finds a cause worth fight for, at which point he becomes the hero, is in a post-apocalyptic America. He finds a old post truck. He is accepted into villages and get food and shelter by pretending to be a representative of the restored United States Postal service by delivering some of the old letters and wearing the uniform. But as he continues his charade and more and more people believe in the restored united states. Meanwhile, an evil dictator with a forced army is on the loose. The villages decide to stand against them because the restored united states will protect them. Some of them are slaughtered and Kevin Costner runs away because he gave them hope, something to believe in but it wasn’t true. They couldn’t get a better condition than what they were in but at least before they were content. I’m not going to let tell you how the film ends. But hope, it can dangerous if its false. Yet it can be vital. People without hope can give up, abandon the good they have or even commit suicide because they have no hope. Yet if it is falsely given then it can be the most dangerous thing in the world. The question is which is Christian hope.
Continue the imagery of the early part of the chapter which talks about Christians as those who are lead by the Spirit and not by the flesh. It talks about how those who are lead by the Spirit have freedom from the power of sin. Now Romans 8:12-25 goes on to tell us what else we have if we live by the power of the Spirit, what else we have if we are Christians.
Verses 16-17 give us a list. We are children and heirs of God, suffering and glory. The interesting thing is that they are linked with a concept that is stated explicitly in 24-25, hope. Yes, we are children and heirs now, but an heir is someone who will inherent. An heir talks not about something we receive now, but which we will inherent in the future. It also talks about enduring suffering in the present so that we will receive glory with Christ in the future.
In the past when this kind of passage was preached on Christianity was been accused of being all pie in the sky when you die. This phrase comes from a protest song from America which was started from groups of lumber and construction workers who when between jobs had no money or food and got upset at the Salvation Army of all people for preaching about all this heaven stuff and enduring stuff here while all they wanted was food to eat. In response a guy called Joe Hill wrote a song called the Preacher and the Slave to the tune of the Sweet Bye and Bye. The first verse and chorus of which went like this
Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
In other words its talking about something that meets none of the real needs of the community but rather is just a made up lie to get you to be cooperative and put up with suffering now. What good is pie in the sky when you die if you need food now.
In reaction against this view we have tended to shy away from talking about eternal rewards sometimes and emphasise the NOW of Christianity. While not wanting to disagree with this idea, the NOW of Christianity, this passage does talk more about the future. So what about these pie in the sky claims. Paul doesn’t seem to view it that way and the picture he gives of hope is not the modern one we are more familiar with. We do view hope most often as a kind of airy fairy idea about the future that we would like to come true but many times either don’t expect it too or if there is a fair chance that it might there’s a also a good chance that it won’t. I hope that Scotland is going to win the world cup. I hope that Scotland is going to qualify for the world cup. Or I hope to have house paid for by the time I retire. I hope I don’t have a car accident. All my ideas about things that I would like to happen in the future all with varying degrees of whether they are likely to happen or not. But I can guarantee none of them.