Hope College Commencement speaker Ronald Wolthuis turned a familiar motto around as he offered the Class of 2002 his advice for navigating the future.
Wolthuis presented "In You, God Trusts" on Sunday, May 5, at Holland Municipal Stadium. Brandishing a dollar, he credited a newspaper column with prompting him to consider the words of the bill's motto in a new order and a new way: as a call to action.
"Every time you use, or look at, a coin or bill, not only can you remember that God is trustworthy--In God We Trust--but you should also consider something else--something that sounds a bit incredible--In You, God Trusts," he said. "Our wish for you is that you will leave this place to make the kinds of differences God expects and trusts you to make."
Approximately 4,500 attended this year's Commencement, the college's 137th. More than 600 Hope seniors participated, including graduates from throughout the United States and from foreign nations including Belgium, Bosnia, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, the Netherlands and South Africa.
Before outlining thoughts for how the graduates might approach the future, Wolthuis considered the past and the present.
"Your presence here today is not an accident," he said. "All of you have traveled interesting, complex and, in some instances, difficult paths to make it here today."
"Perhaps the best way to view the difficulties most of us encounter in life is to see them as God's way of polishing us like a rough stone, held in His hands," Wolthuis said. "He grinds off some of our rough corners and edges, polishing us with experiences, challenges, choices and changes."
He encouraged the graduates to spend the event itself reflecting on the moments and people that helped shape their college experience. "These people and experiences have become a permanent part of who you are today, and have done as much, perhaps even more, than a course, or a lab experience or field experience that you'd enrolled in for credit," he said.
In considering God's trust, Wolthuis outlined five tasks for the graduates: "take care of the earth," "work for peace and justice," "transform culture," "live compassionate lives," and "be faithful representatives of the person and work of Jesus Christ to a world that is so broken and desperate for good news."
"First of all, God trusts you to take care of His creation," he said, "Frankly, we humans have made quite a mess of this world. With the tons of waste being carted to landfills or dumped in our lakes and rivers, our world needs some serious care."
"God also trusts you to work for peace and harmony in the world. I doubt it's going to be necessary to convince you of this need," Wolthuis said. "As we sit here today, we know that throughout this community, state, country and world, strife and conflict are rampant. We simply cannot continue to scream at, hit, hurt and kill one another."
"God trusts you to transform culture. Our media seems to be telling girls and women that their worth is primarily defined by the size and shape of their bodies. The same media suggests that the value of men should primarily be defined by their athletic abilities, sexual conquests or bank accounts. In the event that we can resist these influences, we find ourselves inundated by messages telling us that our happiness is contingent on the number, or value, of our possessions," he said. "God trusts you to represent His voice to a culture that's lost its moral moorings."
"God trusts you to cultivate a compassionate heart, to learn the difference between sympathy and empathy. He expects you to keep growing in your heart for the poor, the disabled and all the marginalized of society," Wolthuis said. "I am acutely aware of our tendency to judge others, to point out how and in what ways they fall short of the expectations we and others have for them. Please realize that when we are critical or judgmental of others, we lose our capacity to empathize with, and have compassion for, them."
"Finally, and most importantly, we know from the Great Commission found in Matthew 28 that God has entrusted you with the task of faithfully and accurately representing the person and message of Jesus Christ in the world," he said. "Another New Testament author said it this way, 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.'"
By keeping the five tasks in mind, and equipped with their own abilities and training, the graduates, he noted, will be in a position to make a difference.
"This world not only needs the knowledge, gifts and many talents you have; it also desperately needs individuals who will work to restore some semblance of hope and trust," he said. "With God's help, and the constant awareness of 'In You, God Trusts,' the 607 of you can do great things for God."
The college's Baccalaureate service took place earlier in the day. Dr. Leanne Van Dyk, professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary, delivered the address, "Faith Enough to Wait," in Dimnent Memorial Chapel.
She based her text on Lamentations 3:25-30. The Old Testament passage notes that God is good to those who wait for Him and seek Him, providing hope no matter what difficulties are encountered.
One challenge for those living in the 21st century, she said, is to be patient in weathering life's challenges.
"We don't know how to wait," she said. "We lost the skill of waiting some time ago. Maybe we lost it with the invention of canned food. No more waiting for green bean season. Open a can. Maybe we lost it with the invention of the credit car. No more waiting to buy stuff. No deferred consumer gratification. Charge it. Maybe we lost the skill of waiting with the invention of the telephone -- or the cellphone -- or the internet."
She noted a "stubbornness" in the way the passage's author refused to give in to despair. "For Jeremiah knew -- we know -- that the Lord will not reject forever," she said. "The mood of waiting, then, is not one of defeatist gloom."
Neither, Van Dyk said, does waiting involve remaining idle when faced with difficulty. Rather, confidence in God can prompt individuals and communities to work toward something better themselves.
"Refusing to give in to the despair that can so engulf inner cities, Christians as stubborn as Jeremiah say, 'The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him,' she said. "So they seek by sweeping up broken glass, by shutting down crack houses, by opening up excellent day care for children, by pestering city officials to help."
The same sensibility, Van Dyk said, can guide the graduates whatever the future may bring.
"Things are actually not what they seem, says our stubborn prophet. When your face is in the dust, when you bear the yoke in silence, don't conclude that God has abandoned you" she said. "Have faith enough to wait. God will have compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love."