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Rev. Dr. George Hancock-Stefan

The double issue of Time magazine for the weeks of April 27 and May 4 had this wonderful front-page headline: “Finding Hope—A Time 100 Special Report.” I eagerly opened the magazine since I was familiar with many of the people featured, including Margaret Atwood, Angelina Jolie, Mikhail Gorbachev, Stephen Curry, and Klaus Schwab. I was especially interested in what the Dalai Lama had said, because I have taught comparative religions and studied the philosophy of Buddhism. I have an appreciation for what the Dalai Lama is doing in the world and I could see why he was chosen to represent the religious viewpoint.

Yet, I must confess that I was also frustrated by the editorial board’s choice. Globally, about 8% of the population is Buddhist, and half of them live in China. About a quarter of the world’s Buddhists are American converts, and the remainder are people who emigrated from Asia and claim Buddhism as their religion. But about 65% of the American population and 31% of the world population identify as Christian. Wasn’t there anyone from the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, or Protestantism to write about finding hope? Time magazine used to have a religious page and some fantastic religion columnists from many faith traditions. But the last religion writer retired from the magazine, and the column disappeared.

The tenets of Buddhism tell us that we are able to find harmony and strength within ourselves. In contrast, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam tell us that our strength lies outside of ourselves in a divine being. A keen observer of retirement centers, nursing homes, and hospitals can see that the office of the chaplain has almost been eliminated in recent years. Administrators argue that paying a chaplain is too costly, and there are nearby churches where residents could go if they choose. They believed it was not their responsibility to provide these services, seeming to agree with famous mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace. When asked by Napoleon where God was in his work, he replied, “Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis!” But people who are sick in the hospital or lonely in a retirement home need something outside of themselves, maybe more than ever before in their lives.

Over and over again, we see people asking where God is in this international crisis. There is an entire branch of philosophy and theology that grapples with the presence and goodness of God when evil is rampant. We wonder where God is when most churches are closed, and those who believe in God cannot gather. Yet, while very few churches are open, I find that the people of God are praying like never before. They trust in God and their hope is in Him.

Many people in Biblical times encountered extreme difficulties like we are encountering today. One of them saw a deadly pestilence that caused 70,000 people to die in three days (1 Chronicles 21:14), yet he wrote in Psalm 18:28-30: “For you will light my lamp; The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall. As for God His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” In another place, he writes, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

I wish that the editorial board at Time had found one more person to write alongside the people chosen by the magazine. They could proclaim that we find our hope in the everlasting God who had been our God in the past and will be with us through this present and in the future, for God is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore.

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