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How to find hope in a burning world

We are living through a ‘permacrisis’ – a seemingly endless cycle of bleak news. So how do we stay hopeful?

Written by Gideon Heugh | 04 Nov 2022

Silhouette of two people sitting with a burning building in the background
There comes a point when the alarm has been ringing for so long that you tune it out. Like the roar of planes when you live under a flight path, dire warnings about climate change can eventually just fade into the background. Yet, all the while, something within your depths is shaking.
It happened again last week. The UN reported that there was ‘woefully inadequate progress’ being made to tackle climate change. The world is on track for a rise in global temperatures of around 2.5°C. This would lead to tragedy on an enormous scale. Areas that are now heavily populated would become uninhabitable. Too hot. Too dry. Or too flooded. More than a billion people could be made refugees – most of whom are already living in poverty. 

The alarm is ringing.

More fuel on the fire

Climate change is already happening faster than predicted. This has led to some of the disasters seen recently: flooding that left a third of Pakistan underwater; monstrous wildfires in Europe and the US; a drought in East Africa that is leaving millions on the brink of famine. 

We have had a small taste here in the UK, with the temperature blasting above 40°C for the first time on record.

‘Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.’
Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme

Every slight increase in global temperatures is more fuel on the fire. Yet the greenhouse gas emissions causing this heating are still on the rise.

This week, global leaders are meeting in Egypt to discuss the crisis. These talks, known as COP27, need to result in massive collective action.

‘We have to stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and stop doing it fast,’ says Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme. ‘We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.’

The alarm is ringing. 

Facing the ‘permacrisis’

It is all too easy to tune it out. The world feels desperately heavy. We are all carrying this around – we are all weary, still reeling from the collective trauma of a global pandemic.

The Collins Dictionary recently chose ‘permacrisis’ as their word of the year. This is defined as ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity’. And it certainly rings true: coronavirus, the cost of living crisis, conflict in Ukraine, political chaos, the collapse of biodiversity, a global food crisis, vast humanitarian emergencies in Yemen, Afghanistan and East Africa. The list goes on.

As a people of faith, our call is to provide a counter-narrative to the uncertainty surrounding us. But how do we do that when we are so hard-pressed – when the world is on fire?

How can we possibly find hope?

Skyline of industrial chimneys and powerlines

Despite warnings about catastrophic global heating, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising | Credit: Pexels

Acknowledging reality

What we must not do is pretend that things are fine when they are not. There is such a thing as toxic positivity. It is crucial that we allow ourselves to grieve; to lament; to be angry at that which deserves our anger.

The Bible sets a clear example for this. Consider these laments in the Psalms:

‘My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?’ (Psalm 6:3)

‘Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?’ (Psalm 10:1)

‘My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”’ (Psalm 42:10)

There is an entire book in the Bible, Lamentations, dedicated to expressing the people’s confusion and sorrow following the destruction of Jerusalem. We shouldn’t be afraid of expressing the same – God draws close to us in our pain (Psalm 34:18).

Grief and hope are not opposites. When we charge our sorrow at the way the world is with hope at what it could be, we can create change. In the examples above, and throughout scripture, cries of suffering are followed by affirmations of hope.

We find hope by seeing not darkness alone, nor light alone – but light in the darkness.

The meaning of hope

‘Hope, like love, is a verb. It is the decision to not only look for the helpers, but to be a helper. Hope plants seeds. It checks on its neighbours. It takes a stand.’
To find hope, we must define what it is, and what it isn’t.

Hope is not a feeling. As seen above, we must not ignore sorrow.

Hope is not dependent on circumstances. There will always be things to dismay us. We cannot only have hope when things seem hopeful.

Hope is an answer to the question: what kind of universe do we live in – is it one only of ashes and finality – or is it one where beauty can rise up, where there is never not the chance for restoration, reconciliation, redemption? Look to the cross; to the empty tomb.

Hope takes this answer and turns it into action. Hope, like love, is a verb. It is the decision to not only look for the helpers, but to be a helper. Hope plants seeds. It checks on its neighbours. It takes a stand. This is deeply counter-cultural – and is our calling as the church.

Hope is a choice. It is the voice that says, at the beginning of every new day, ‘We begin again.’ 

We find hope in Christ. In the belief that all things can be made new, and that we can join in. ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.’ (Hebrews 10:23)

Carrying each other’s burdens

A group of people standing praying in a circle

A women's group in Malawi. Church is a place where we can support one another | Credit: Alex Baker/Tearfund

Faced alone, the world’s problems seem insurmountable. But we are not alone. We are made for connection, and that connection has power.

‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’ (Matthew 18:20)

‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ (John 13:34)

‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.’ (Proverbs 17:17)

‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.’ (Galatians 6:2)

This is what church is all about. Church is a place where we can support one another through personal and collective crises – and work towards solutions together.

We find hope in the collective. We find hope in each other. 

How to create a world

‘We can declare that love and hope are alive, even if it feels as though they are not. We can reject cynicism and despair and speak instead of hope – real hope; hope that doesn’t ignore the darkness, but enters into it.’

In Genesis, God speaks the universe into being. Reality is vocalised into existence. Words create worlds.

Our words create worlds too; as we pray, and as we go about our lives. ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.’ (Ephesians 4:29). Words can build and they can destroy – we get to choose which one.

Language has creative potency. We can declare that love and hope are alive, even if it feels as though they are not. We can reject cynicism and despair and speak instead of hope – real hope; hope that doesn’t ignore the darkness, but enters into it.

In Proverbs, we are implored to ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’ (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Speech and the creation of a better world are intertwined. We find hope by not staying silent.

Pray with us

Take the time to pray about this. Find some paper to write on, or use your phone or computer.

Write down a list of everything that is making you feel uncertain at the moment. This can include anything you have seen in the news that you are worried about, or anything going on in the world that is heavy on your heart. Leave a few lines of space after each thing that you write.

Once you have finished, write the following declaration in each of the spaces:

Loving God, I choose hope. I choose Christ. I choose to help.
I choose to believe in restoration. I choose to believe in goodness.
I choose to believe in you.

Then, look with that hope to those situations, and imagine what it would look like for God’s to move in them. You may want to revisit these statements from the article above:

We find hope by seeing not darkness alone, nor light alone – but light in the darkness.

We find hope in Christ. In the belief that all things can be made new, and that we can join in.

We find hope in the collective. We find hope in each other.

We find hope by not staying silent.

Spend some time listening to God after this, and continue to pray as you feel led.

Written by

Written by  Gideon Heugh


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