I have written about hope before, but given the world events of last week and increasing political upheaval we endure in this nation, it seems appropriate to revisit the topic.
New years always begin with a sense of optimism, even if, like a sports team, there may not be any substantial reason for such confidence. The year, the season, starts with no losses and a host of opportunities for wins. It’s begins with a clean slate. Yet, what happens when the beginning has barely even started and we face our first loss or defeat? I wrote last week about resolutions. What happens if this week your commitment to spend more time in the gym or to eat more healthily already is beginning to waver? Or what if you thought 2020 would be more stable globally, and then within days our government sees fit to kill an Iranian general, sparking calls for revenge on the US, and further threats from our president?
Often, the fallen world has a way of dashing much of our optimism for the future, and our fallen nature leads to disappointment in our own lives, no matter how hard we try. We begin to lose hope. In fact, for many, particularly those with more “glass half empty” mentalities, the fallen world can slowly wring out whatever hope we might have. Time and again, we can feel the squeeze of suffering and disappointment until we reach the point where very little, if any, hope is left.
I have been reading the letters of the Apostle Paul the past several weeks, and what strikes me is, despite his ongoing suffering and disappointment, he remains hopeful. Consider what he went through:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (II Corinthians 11:23b-28)
At one point he writes, he “despaired of life itself.”
Yet, even in the midst of his continual suffering, he held onto hope. How? Because his hope came not from his circumstances or feelings, but from a person—Jesus Christ.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)
In our own weakness, we tend to get bogged down in the circumstances of our lives. Paul was tempted to do this as well. But like a life preserver thrown to a drowning man, Jesus can keep us afloat, keep us hopeful, in the midst of troubling times. If our hope is found in our circumstances or in our feelings, then hope will appear and disappear like the sun disappearing behind the clouds and then reappearing.
No. True hope remains regardless of the circumstances, and can even grow as we experience repeated suffering and disappointment. It “produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” I can attest to this. Over my life, I’ve had many struggles, but I have never given up my hope in Jesus. And I believe the Lord has used my struggles to make me more and more like the man he created me to be.
It is clear from the Scriptures that no suffering is beyond God’s work in it and through it. This is how we can maintain hope in the midst of suffering and disappointment. We are not abandoned, though we may feel we are. Instead, we are loved, though we may feel unloved in the moment. God has the best in mind for us, but it may look very different than we imagined. His purview is much broader and longer than ours. He is preparing us, not for this life, which is temporary, but for the next, which lasts forever.
Thus, our hope is in him. While our circumstances change many times, Jesus never does. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:3) It is upon him that our hope finds its endurance through whatever the fallen world throws at us.
© Jim Musser 2020