One of the most tragic comments ever written about a group of people is found in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. There, writing to a church made up largely of Gentile converts, Paul reminded them “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12; NKJV). It is a vivid description of the world without Christ.
It must be remembered that before the coming of the gospel this was the condition in which most of the human race found itself. God’s dealings with the human race were largely confined to one small group of people – the nation of Israel. Thus Israel was uniquely in a position to know something about God and about His purposes in history. He had made a promise to their ancestor Abraham, and that promise gave them hope – hope for a better tomorrow.
But where did that leave the rest of the human race? They were “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” The “covenants of promise” refers to the various covenants that God had made to Abraham and his descendants the Israelites. The covenants included promises from God, and the promises gave Israel hope – the confident expectation that God would make things better in the future. But the Gentiles had none of this. Theirs was a dark and unpromising world, filled with toil and hardship, strife and conflict, with no hope for a better future. What you so was pretty much what you got.
Moreover, the Gentiles were “without God in the world.” They worshipped gods, of course; they were polytheistic. But their “gods” were very much like themselves – only they lived longer. What the pagan Gentiles had no concept of was a single, all-powerful Supreme Being, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. And this affected them psychologically. Without God it is nearly impossible to find meaning and purpose in life. We simply exist as an accident of nature, left to struggle to survive on our own. For a while we might convince ourselves that we are doing well – we have jobs and houses and cars and boats. But does anyone else really care about us? Does it really matter in the long run? And what happens when things turn bad? What do we have then? We are left with nothing.
You can see it on people’s faces. Some look sad and depressed; some look bitter and cynical; others are just plain angry. Few smile and few look happy. They have eaten the bitter herbs of life without God.
As human beings we can find meaning and purpose, happiness and fulfillment, only by returning to our Creator. We were created by Him for His purposes, and life was meant to function a certain way – His way.
Our sins stand as a barrier between us and God, and we must find forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s atoning death on the cross. We must go to God in repentance and faith, and then we can find a meaningful relationship with our Creator. In his letter to the Ephesians could go on to refer to Isa. 57:19: “And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near”; and went on to say, “For through Him [i.e., Christ] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:17,18).
Does the Christian experience difficulties in life? He most certainly does. But he takes his burdens to God in prayer; he comes in complete submission to the Father’s will, and he trusts in God’s unfailing providence. He finds fulfillment in life by serving God and helping others. And in the end he dies in the hope of eternal life. It is a hope worth living for.