According to the Center for Disease Control, the life expectancy in the United States has declined for the third year in a row. The last time this happened was a century ago, 1915-1918, when our country entered World War I and 675,000 Americans died because of the Spanish Flu.
This time it’s not war or a flu pandemic contributing to the decline in life expectancy, it’s hopelessness. The key contributors to the current decline are drug overdoses (at least 90,000 in 2018), suicides (45,000 in 2017), and alcohol abuse. Researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton have dubbed these as "deaths of despair.”
While this hopelessness is “largely economic,” other factors contribute to it as well. Ann Case said this, "Your family life has fallen apart, you don't know your kids anymore, all the things you expected when you started out your life just haven't happened at all."[i] As earthly aspirations slip our fingers, we need something that lasts beyond the pain and rejection we all feel at times in our lives.
The Gospel infuses joyous hope into lives touched by this despondency. Yet, so many teachers and writers downgrade the good news to signify hope for this life alone, to earth-centered benefits that fail to resonate with the deep-rooted despair that so many sitting in the pews of our churches sense.
Yes, the Bible contains needed truths that improve marriage relationships, guide us with our finances, encourage strong family ties, and add purpose to our everyday grind at work. It’s essential that we not neglect these things.
On the other hand, as believers our spouses sometimes leave us, we lose jobs, our finances fail despite wise planning, and our children rebel. We grow old, experience failing health, and die. Is this not why our message must emphasize eternal hope? The world can see that bad things happen to us just as does to them. It’s our eternal hope that will speak to others; a hope that far outlasts all our earthly expectations.
The Future Tense of the Gospel
I recognize several other valid reasons exist for our failure as believers to communicate hope to a dying world, but I believe one key explanation is that we have eliminated the future tense of the Gospel both from its proclamation and from how we explain the Gospel’s impact upon the everyday lives of those who watch and listen to us.
The Apostle Paul said this, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). In other words, if the Gospel only applies to our current situations in life without offering a living and joyous expectation beyond this “vale of tears,” as John Eldredge calls this life, what good is it?
In Romans 8:23 the apostle added that we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption our bodies.” Notice carefully what Paul says in the next verse, “For in this hope we were saved” (Rom. 8:24). The Lord saves us in hope of Jesus’ appearing when He returns to complete our adoption into God’s family and give us imperishable bodies. We come into God’s family in anticipation of the rapture, yippee, where our eternal adventure begins that leads to our reigning forever on a new earth with homes in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22).
Paul’s Time in Thessalonica
In describing the conversion of the Thessalonian saints, Paul says they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven . . .” (1 Thess. 1:10). Paul did not wait until years later when his converts were mature in the faith to tell them about things such as the rapture and the wonders of eternity, he included it in his proclamation of the Gospel to them and they turned to Jesus in the eager anticipation of His soon return for them.
Paul was in Thessalonica a short time, perhaps two or three months at the most. Yet, by the time he left the city his new converts there had the equivalent of a Bible college course in future things (see 1 Thess. 5:1-2).
In a day when the signs of the last days flash like gigantic neon signs before our eyes, we should be telling others about our hope. People see that the world is falling apart; our task is tell them why this is happening, show them where the world is headed (the tribulation), and proclaim our hope with words and our lives.
Our hope does not rest in what we see, but in what in the unseen things the Lord has revealed to us in His Word!
In a day when our world is falling apart with violence and rampant evil, it’s easy for believers to feel dejected and angry by what we see. We know from Scripture, however, that these things must happen in the last days. Of course we wish things were different, but the evil and perversion around us tells us that Jesus is coming for us soon, perhaps today!
The future tense of the Gospel reminds us that God remains in total control and soon the Father will send His Son to take us out of this world to the place Jesus is now preparing for us in His “Father’s house” (John 14:2-3). It’s not that we neglect the despairing world around us, but that we tell the lost of the joyous source hope that resides within us.