For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4.
In a recent post, it’s a jungle out there, I discussed the daunting challenges confronting college graduates today. It’s not just that the job market is slow. In some ways graduates lack the emotional and psychological resources to cope with the sea of economic circumstances crashing on the beaches of their hearts.
Andy, a former student, responded that what my essay lacked was hope. He loved it, he said, despite what he called the “post-apocalyptic” mindset it engendered. But he believes an idealistic “blind faith” is necessary to move on and through these challenges. And I agree, up to a point.
Certainly my depiction was dark, and intended to be that way. But I did joke that sooner or later all of them will own an iPad. A culturally embedded resilience will help them overcome these challenges by “developing new industries and discovering fresh routes to affluence,” although I’m not sure they will or should define affluence in the same way.
But in a biblical sense hope is not blind, or even idealistic. Hope is a confident expectation that good will triumph, an expectation rooted in our understanding of God’s promises and purpose. Few of our graduates have such hope. They believe, and have in fact been taught, that they are themselves responsible for solving the problems of the world. This is hard to manage when you can’t even get a job. However, as the Psalmists put it, “It is better to trust in God than to put confidence in man.”
Even the ones who trust God often fail to understand his purpose, which includes the trials we face. They have no conception of a God who may not want them to get a job, who may in fact have something different or better in mind. What he really wants are lives that are dependent on him.
Does this generation need a corrective to its unrealistic expectations? Does it need to depend more on God? Perhaps. Only God can say. But every generation faces its own tests. Sometime there is revival and sometimes there is denial, even though every difficulty can be turned to glory.
The Apostle James, writing to the twelve tribes during another difficult time, said:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
Such steadfastness boils down to understanding this: God is fully sovereign and we are fully responsible. This is no contradiction or paradox. And our responsibility is to rest in his grace, first for salvation and then for daily bread. And daily everything else. This may be hard to do when you have invested four years and thousands of dollars in an education and still can’t find a job. But if you can’t do it then, you can’t do it at all.
Yes, my post was meant to be sobering. It was also meant to launch a series of essays on what may be needed to succeed in things that truly matter: a spirit of humility, a sense of responsibility, a respect for authority and a hunger for righteousness.
But I think Andy is on the right track. He says hope “told me that starting my own company at the peak of a recession was a good idea. And while I’m not making what I was at my last job, I love it more, am able to stay-at-home with my kid while I do it, and can’t be fired.”
Our trials in fact ought to lead us to taking such risks, as long as they are grounded in God’s promises.
That’s what hope looks like.
I hope current and former students (as well as educators and parents) will reply to and share this post, encouraging a conversation that will help me understand and respond thoughtfully to this issue. Thanks.