Hope for sale

It could be an all-time best seller – if shops really were able to sell ‘hope’.

An innovative scheme introduced by Budgens supermarket began last week in which small blocks of recycled wood labelled “Hope” were placed on sale for £1 as a fund-raising strategy for the Alzheimer’s Society. The labels encouraged shoppers to “Buy HOPE for people affected by dementia”.

It is, of course, not only those with dementia who are in need of hope. A survey in this country a few years ago determined that a quarter of Britons considered their future to be hopeless and one in ten thought they would be better off dead. In our post-modern world, the one thing that seems evident is that many people have generally lost hope. The famous chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13 ends with the familiar words, “Now these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” It would seem, however, that for our society today, the rarest of these is hope. I recall reading about a prospectus of an overseas hotel catering for English tourists which declared “Our wines leave you nothing to hope for” – a classic example of not saying quite what you mean. But anyone who said that our world today leaves us nothing to hope for would undoubtedly be expressing what many people feel.

The tragedy is that human hopes tend to be either illusory or else they disappoint so easily. For countless thousands of people, their hope is for a win on the lottery or “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. Whilst they may not win, they have bought themselves permission to dream, to indulge in a fantasy when reality is just too tough. Alternatively, when hopes are realised, they frequently turn out to be short-lived and unsatisfying. A mere four years ago people in America and across the world got so excited by the election of Barack Obama as the next US President. One newspaper article spoke of Obama’s election as the “biggest, most hope-inducing seismic shift in world politics most of us can remember”. Not many would speak in those terms today. Politics aside, Barack Obama is not the Messiah for America or the world. Hope for the world lies not in a politician but in a Saviour, Jesus Christ. We look for hope in all kinds of places – even now in supermarkets – but we fail to seek it where it truly can be found – in God’s Son.

Personally, I think that the Budgens scheme is a novel and creative way of raising money for charity at a time when donations for many charities are falling. Suggestions have been made that future developments could be supermarkets selling “happiness” or “joy” and Budgens manager Andrew Thornton indicated that before long it could "become aspirational to be seen to be buying ‘hope’ at the check out". Simon Horton, from the advertising agency JWT, that devised the idea, said: “We are making hope a commodity. You are buying a bit of hope in the same way as you are buying your beans”. But actually, authentic and lasting hope, happiness and joy are not commodities that can be bought. They are blessings that ultimately are not dependent on a consumer’s purchasing power, nor even favourable circumstances and a positive mindset. They are, rather, by-products of a relationship with the Divine Hope-Giver.

The hope that God gives makes a difference not only in the here and now, but goes beyond the barrier of death to cover all eternity, because this hope is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 15:19-20 that “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

There’s something almost poignant as well as incongruent about supermarkets selling hope after Easter. The need for hope is undeniable, the inducement to people to give charitably to those in need is praiseworthy, but is it not to the Church of Jesus Christ that people should be looking to get and give hope, rather than to their grocery store? The Easter story records how the angels said to the women who came to the tomb “Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?" (Luke 24:5). It’s the wrong place. The same applies when it comes to hope. But is that because we haven’t communicated the Christian hope as we should have? There’s a challenge here for the Church to be the real source that, through Christ, offers hope, shares hope and gives hope at a time when the need has never been greater.

Tony Ward is a Bible teacher and evangelist who was ordained in Zimbabwe. He currently lives and ministers in Bristol

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