“SOMETHING will turn up.” That was the catchphrase of Charles Dickens’s comic master-piece Mr Micawber, famously portrayed by W C Fields in 1935, and subsequently played by the likes of Ralph Richardson, Arthur Lowe, Bob Hoskins and David Jason to name only a few.
To give the full quotation from Chapter One of David Copperfield: “I have no doubt I shall, please Heaven, begin to be more beforehand with the world, and to live in a perfectly new manner, if – if, in short, anything turns up.”
Come what may, Mr Micawber is relentlessly optimistic. Whatever happens, he remains convinced against all the evidence that in the end “something will turn up”. And in one sense it does of course, but it is never the unbridled fortune that he dreams of – only ever more of the same, or worse.
This is what we call optimism – hoping for the best, based on no rational foundation and nothing more than a gut feeling that the next ticket you buy will bring the lottery jackpot and change your life. “Something will turn up.”
Many people think that is what the Christian faith is about as well. They see it as based on pure optimism – pie in the sky with no foundation in reality and no visible means of support. Christianity is based on the God Delusion. It is whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up – and we would be better off without it.
Needless to say, I would beg to differ. The Christian faith is based on some very well documented historical evidence for the person of Jesus of Nazareth and what he taught about God and God’s purpose for our lives. There is probably no better attested figure in ancient history in terms of the huge quantity of manuscripts that tell us about Jesus, what he did and what he taught. There are thousands of documents from a very early date, from Christian and other sources, compared with a handful of copies of texts telling us about other figures in the ancient world.
The story of Jesus that we read in the pages of the gospels is no fairy story, no cleverly devised myth, it is rooted in history and tells us of a real person who had a huge impact on those around him – an impact he has continued to have for the last two thousand years.
And it is this Jesus who is the source of my hope both for my life in 2017 and for the life of our world. Following Jesus is what gives my life purpose and meaning – and my confidence in his reality and faithfulness is what keeps me going when awful things happen, whether to people close to me or on the other side of the world.
I don’t know what the New Year will bring.
The last year certainly brought some tragic and unexpected events, including the murder of Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox right here in West Yorkshire. In the wider world, we saw terrorist atrocities in Belgium and France, the largely unexpected vote for Brexit, the dreadful violence in Syria and the Middle East, and the (again largely unexpected) election of Donald Trump. I certainly do not have any confidence that “something will turn up” in the sense of believing that the world economy will recover dramatically and that Britain’s public finances will be restored overnight.
But I do have hope. Hope in the faithfulness of God, hope in the power of Jesus Christ to give purpose and direction to the lives of those who follow him, and hope that by following him we can also make a difference to the lives of those around us in our local communities and in the wider world. My conviction, born out of faith in Jesus Christ, is that I am not here on this earth just to look after myself and those close to me. I am here because I am loved by God and I am here to express and pass on that love to others.
My hope for 2017 is that more and more people will begin to discover the reality of Jesus for themselves and that as a result they will start to find a new purpose and meaning for their lives. Not based on blind optimism or on Mr Micawber’s empty belief that something will turn up, but based on seeing something of who Jesus is and also something of the difference he can make in the lives of those who follow him.
And followers of Jesus have a responsibility to live lives based on the hope we have found through him and not to let fear dominate the way we relate to those around us. Over the last few years, fear has become a significant factor in political life. It played a huge part on both sides of the EU referendum campaign and it has had a corrosive influence in the life of our nation. My hope for 2017 is that we will begin to see that changing – but if that is to happen, then it will have to start with you and me.
The Right Reverend Jonathan Gibbs is Bishop of Huddersfield.