The Michigan Daily recently published an article on professor Ralph Williams, who used to be a popular professor here. If I remember correctly, he taught a class on Jesus and the Gospels (I just looked it up. I didn’t remember correctly. He taught some classes on the English Bible and many others on a variety of religious and linguistic topics). However, being at the U, I was certain that the class treated Scripture from a more secular viewpoint, so when my friends in college told me that their faith was more often than not shaken by their time in his and similar courses, it was disappointing, but it wasn’t surprising.
The article shed some light on his past, his upbringing, and made a little more obvious why he would find himself struggling with faith, and, ultimately, abandoning it, according to the article and its tone.
While I disagree with Prof. Williams’ viewpoints on faith and justice in the world, I think I can understand why he would see things the way he does. After all, from the point of view of a human living in the world, the sheer amount of injustice and evil in the world is staggering, leaving far more questions than can be answered. Yet, to see these as a rationale for abandoning a belief in God is, I believe, an abandoning of substantial hope.
Now, a man is free to hope in anything; indeed, Prof. Williams himself is quoted as taking his joy in the good that humanity can do, despite the atrocities humans have committed. Substantial hope, however, means that there must be some body of evidence that enables a person to confidently say that their hope will be fulfilled. A hope in the triumphant human spirit apart from God, which is peddled by many of today’s academics, is an unsubstantiated hope that could easily be broken down simply by looking at the evils perpetrated by mankind across the world. Slavery, racism, rape, murder, avarice, and evils unparalleled are rampant outside the ivory towers of academia, and it is a demonic lie for a person to think or teach that kind sentiments about the human spirit can defeat the savagery that is too easily found among even the most “civilized” of people. Such a hope is bound to put those who trust in it to shame.
The alternative is substantial hope, hope that has substance, that you can cut with a knife and stick your teeth into and stake your life on. This is the kind of hope that is abandoned by secular and postmodern thinking, but the hope that is the most desperately needed in a world where life and all things fade so quickly. It is suitable, then, that the most substantial hope is not hope for this world, which is passing away, but hope for the world to come. This hope says that death was not the last word, and that, if Prof Williams’ brother believed in Christ on the day of his death, then when he kissed his mother goodbye, he was greeted with the kisses, affection, security, and unending love of his heavenly Father who bought him with Christ’s blood.
This hope says that one day, evil will be vanquished, that those responsible for evil, for the Holocaust, for death, for all these and worse will be brought to eternal justice, and that there will be no more outrage, no more anger, no more depression, for peace will be made by the hammer of God’s righteous judgment and there will be eternal blessings for all those who love him and call on their redeemer’s name. The substance of this hope comes from the evidence that still stands irrefutable to this day, that Jesus Christ was slain for all the evils of humanity, and, three days later, rose from the dead victorious over the grave. This is substantial hope, not hope in fickle human strength, but hope in the power of the God who can reverse death and revive souls.
I do believe that God loves Prof. Williams, and has a reason why he has put him into the position of teaching that he is in. I do not believe that people are given their roles in the world as an accident, but that God has appointed times and places for every human, given the history that they have had, so that they might have their eyes opened to him and call upon him for salvation, and that others also might hear and be rescued from an eternity apart from God. Despite how Prof. Williams has discouraged some of my friends from believing what I hold to as the one and only hope, I pray that he will one day find his hope not in the spirit of man, which is blown about like a wave in the wind, but in the Spirit of God, whose steadily unfolding plan will spell certain love and redemption for those who hold on to him and persevere.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.