I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately.
It’s a good word, isn’t it? No one I know dislikes the word, unless it is preceded by some form of “I don’t have any” or “I’ve lost all”. And even then, we usually mourn that someone is without hope.
When hope is taken away, it creates a visceral response in us, doesn’t it? Something is wrong in a world where hope has been lost, and that’s the thing – it does have to be lost. It’s like we come factory made, ready-loaded with hope – and we have hope until someone gives a reason not to.
But I don’t want to focus on the loss of hope. There’s enough darkness in the world that revels in the destruction of hope. Rather, I want to focus the presence of hope, what that means, and how we can avoid losing it.
We all want hope, don’t we? And it doesn’t matter our place or situation in life.
The teenager, thinking about university? Hopeful.
The nervous guy, about to propose to his girlfriend? Hopeful.
The young woman, waiting to see if she got the job? Hopeful.
The married couple who are trying to get pregnant? Hopeful.
The older couple just entering retirement together? Hopeful.
And we find themes of hope scattered all around us; in music, in art, in film, in literature.
For example, The Shawshank Redemption, one of my all-time favorite films, has a strong theme of hope.
We find the theme of hope coming back up again in one of my brother’s favorites, Hitch.
And then there’s this…
The world – as seen through the lens of Hollywood – gets it. Hope is a good thing!
And then we have popular music, which is full of songs about hope. For example…
There’s the Script’s Hall of Fame.
Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’.
Sarah Bareilles’ Brave.
Alright then. So I think we can all agree that hope is a good thing, that it is something that we should all be encouraged to have, and that we should be encouraged to express our hope. So what then? What’s your point, Nate?
I want to turn the page for a moment to find my point, and look at the idea of hope from a Christian perspective. If you aren’t a Christian, just hang with me.
In the Christian faith, hope gets an added boost in that it’s one of the triumvirate specifically mentioned by the apostle Paul in his famous “love” chapter of 1 Corinthians – the one that lots of people, Christians and otherwise, have read at weddings. In that chapter, Paul clearly lays out the power of love (to borrow from Huey), but ends with:
And now these three remain (or last, or endure): faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Think of all the other good words that Paul could have put into that verse as the things that will remain. He could have mentioned all of the “fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians 5:22 as enduring: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. But he didn’t.
Only three things will endure through anything, and they are faith, hope, and love.
Do you get the power of what Paul is saying here? When everything else is gone, these things will last.
Isn’t that amazing?
When the sky is darkest, and the tempest is about to break, hope remains.
When your world has fallen apart, hope remains.
When the one you married has left you behind for a newer edition, hope remains.
When the bank account reads negative, hope remains.
When the doctor gives you the last prognosis you ever wanted to hear, hope remains.
And to put a more global perspective on this…
When a group of thugs has rampaged across your country and you’ve lost everything, hope remains.
When the earthquake destroyed everything you ever knew or cared about, hope remains.
When the ever-present threat of terrorism has you living in fear of going to the market, but you have to go to get food, even then hope remains.
But here’s where we run into a problem with hope. Where do we get it? Where does it come from? What kind of hope can survive all the crap that the world throws at it, able to remain?
Think about the screenwriter in Hollywood who is putting his hope on his ability to write the next big script, and properly play the networking game to get it made into a film, thus making him a success in his field.
Think about the surgical resident who is putting her hope in her hard-earned skills, and through her sheer determination to be able to overcome the biases and stereotypes inherent in the system so that she will be able to become a fully qualified surgeon and do what she’s dreamt of doing.
Think of the farmer who is putting his hope in the weather, that the rains will finally come and he’ll be able to actually have a harvest this year.
Think of the unemployed single mother who is putting her hope in the government to provide enough money to pay the rent and feed her kids.
Think of the displaced refugees – who have lost their ancestral homeland, who have lost family members to hatred and ignorance, who are hated for what they believe. And so they put their hope in the military of another country to come in, clean house, and set things right again.
Do you see the weakness in these hopes? Like ships dropping anchors in sandbars – they are all examples of people putting their hope in things that are malleable. They are hoping in things that can and will change in a moment’s notice. They are hoping in things that may not actually be dependable at all.
And a hope built on something that isn’t dependable is a weak hope.
It’s a hope that can be stripped away.
It’s a hope that will fail.
And that’s not the kind of hope that Paul was talking about. Not even close.
Remember, the hope Paul’s talking about is one of the three things that will last, no matter what. This is a hope that nobody can take from you, even yourself. This is a hope that will never fail.
In the first centuries of her existence, the church was undergoing fierce persecution at the hands of the Romans. To be able to meet clandestinely and safely, the followers of Jesus would mark a location with an anchor. It was a symbol that looked innocuous enough, but held the image of the cross, and so the believers could use it freely.
The anchor represented safety and security, and the image of the cross it contained reminded the believers that they could find their safety and security – their hope – in the Jesus who died for them on that cross, no matter how hot the heat of persecution became. They knew that He was the one they could count on, even when the difficulties, the tragedies, the hardships of life were threatening to capsize them.
They knew that if their hope was in Jesus, it was like a ship who drops anchor and finds purchase, and is able to ride out the storm without being dashed to pieces on the rocks.
And so, as I sit here, pondering hope, pondering the ultimate source of hope, I’m challenged to reconsider where I get the hope to which I’ve been clinging.
Me? I’ve been hoping on my friends, my family, my work, my gifts, my abilities, my dreams…
I’m challenged to let go of these temporary things that I’ve been depending upon, good things though they may be, and to reclaim the kind of hope that Paul was speaking about, the kind of hope that sustained those early Christians in the face certain death. I’m challenged to place all my hope in the anchor that holds, to have the kind of hope that remains.
To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out what this means. It’s a journey, after all. Into uncharted waters.
But if I’m going on a journey, I don’t go alone. I go with the faith and hope that I have a dependable anchor, an anchor that – as odd as it sounds – loves me.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.