Hope and Ben Hur
I've only ever watched parts of Ben Hur before, I didn't even watch it in its entirety today, but I did see the longest chunk to date.
Some classic acting and some over dramatic 'ohs' and 'ahs' - brilliant rainy day TV.
I'm glad I took a bit of time to really watch it and empathise with the main character Judah who has been through so many ups and downs in his life, he has come close to death so many times and has lost so much on the way. He stands in the crowd as Jesus is being crucified. Another man, Balthazaar is there. He's an old man, his character is supposed to be one of the wise men who came to see Jesus at his birth and has followed him through to his death. At this point There's a bit of dialogue between the two men in which Judah is basically saying 'look where your hope has got you'.
He says this to the old man out of a place of experience. He has seen how hard life can be, even his last ounce of hope, that Jesus might heal his family from leprosy has been taken away from him; he is full of anger and disillusionment and who could blame him!?
And yet this old man, distressed though he is at all that is happening, clings on to hope, a faith that this is all for something greater, deeper than one man's death, that there is something going on beneath the surface.
This seems, in my experience, to be how God loves to work. When all seems hopeless, when despair is at its height and there just seems no point trying to hold on to anything... that's when God acts. It's a theme you can see time and time again in the Bible narrative whether you look at Moses, Esther, Daniel, David etc... It seems that God just waits... until the very last minute... every... time.
So why? does God just like playing with us? is it some kind of sick game, to see how long He can keep us on the edge? I would suggest not.
I think it's got something to do with resurrection actually.
All these characters in God's story I've mentioned and more came to the end of themselves. Often there was physically nothing they could do in their situations except rely on something bigger, deeper, stronger than themselves and they threw themselves onto God's grace and strength whole heartedly. That's where their heart was, by that point there was little else left that they could put their trust in. And in many of these stories, it's interesting to observe that once they've been in that place of desperation and complete reliance on God, next time they're in trouble, He is their first port of call (if they learnt the lesson).
Old Balthazaar and those with him in the crowd were party to the greatest example of this in all of God's story. It was one of those situations again, where, if God was going to act, He was going to be characteristically late (thus taking those hopers to the edge of themselves and showing His power more brilliantly). There was still hope, even as some taunted him, wondering if Elijah will come and save him.
But that moment came... and it went.
Not this time.
Judah Ben Hur is proven right, life is tough, death trumps everything, what's the point in hope?
What's the point in hope?
Why even hold out that something can be done about injustice that brings poverty to billions in our world?
Why hope that caring about our planet and tackling climate change will make the blindest bit of difference?
Why hope that people in crippling debt or broken and abusive families or caught in a cycle of depression or self hatred will be able to experience real joy and genuinely smile again?
What's the point?
You know, things might not change, not even at the last minute, billions more may fall into poverty, the planet will change irreversibly with catastrophic repercussions for our eco-systems and all life that relies on them (especially those already in poverty). Maybe those estranged family members will never build bridges or speak to each other again, maybe that child will always feel abandoned.
There's still something worth hoping for.
Old Balthazaar knew something was going on beneath the surface, God was being even sneakier than usual.
And he was right.
Jesus dies, but not for long.
Resurrection has a promise in it.
The redemption of all things is coming, it's being fought for around the world by people who have this crazy hope, even in the face of impossible odds, in the face of insatiable greed and malice and corruption and selfishness. There's something going on, beneath the surface.
That thing is resurrection.
Springing up here and there in hopeful stories of God pulling through at the last minute, and sometimes not. But even in those times, God has shown what He's about.
He has shown us in Jesus' death and resurrection that regardless of results, hope is still worth holding onto, more than ever.
Because we hope for something unmatchable, unbeatable and immovable - resurrection life.
You can see it around you, if you look. Just God bringing life, just bubbling beneath the surface.
Judah Ben Hur finds this life at the end of the film and what was once a life bereft and hopeless is transformed into one of wholeness, hope and resurrection life.