Saturday, October 30, 2010

Is There Any Hope?

Bob Rakestraw

Is there any reason to be hopeful? About worldwide malnourishment and disease? About seemingly endless wars and rumors of wars? About human trafficking, bloody drug battles, and cruel white-collar crime?

Is there reason for hope in our own lives—our families, friends, frustrations, finances and futures? Feelings of failure and of being unpopular pull us down. Awareness of our own limitations—whether related to physical health and skills or mental and psychological conditions—leave us feeling sometimes with little or no hope.

The word “hope” may be either a noun or a verb. As a noun, hope can mean, in part, “a feeling of expectation and desire combined,” or “what one hopes for.” As a verb it can mean “to feel hope, to expect and desire, to feel fairly confident” (Oxford American Dictionary). Hope is a good word, and a very strengthening thought.

When I struggled with depression a couple of years ago, the word that most closely expressed the way I felt was “hopeless.” I knew that God was still holding me with his strong hand and would bring me to glory at the end of my earthly life. I felt hopeless, however, because my health was broken and I lacked the energy and the will to do anything that I thought would be of service to God or humanity. The complications from my heart transplant of 2003 had been (and still are) steadily worsening, and I felt gripped by that heavy, almost-tangible condition of hopelessness. I felt unable to move forward in any meaningful way since I retired from teaching in 2005, yet I could not die—what I most longed for.

At the present time I am writing on hope, not because I feel in an upbeat mood, but precisely because I do not. While the depression described above has lifted significantly, I still have times when the shadows come, because of both physical health issues (quite a medley) and the lack of meaningful activity due to those issues. I chose to write on hope now because I hope, God willing, to explain briefly the firm hope that God has engendered in me, even when I have felt hopeless about the circumstances of life.

I am convinced that there is hope for the mega issues of this world and human existence and hope for the matters of daily living. The latter are more short-range, while the former encompass the broad sweep of our earthly life, and beyond. At times I have lacked the short-range hope, but always have known the deep hope of God’s providential care for the poor in spirit in this life and in the life to come.

Both the long-range, big-picture view of life, and the more immediate aspects of our everyday tasks, may be intended in the life-giving words of Romans 5. After “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand….we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us….” For 25 years or more I have had these words on a shelf by my desk at home, where I naturally rest my eyes: “Hope does not disappoint us” (Rom. 5:5).

How can we become hopeful people, both concerning the sorry state of this planet and concerning our present issues: health, relationships, careers, finances, moods, and service to God and others?

The scripture just quoted shows one major route by which we become people of hope: we must first be people of character, and for that we need to develop perseverance, which comes from—of all things—suffering! This is contrary to the world’s thinking, but here it is in God’s word: if we endure suffering well, we will become hopeful people. We will come to see the depths of God’s wisdom and love for us, and for all his creation. We are not to seek suffering, as though that would speed up our maturation. Enough suffering will come to us all, but never more than we are able to bear (I Cor. 10:13).

It is not possible to live well without hope. In fact, many who are hopeless decide not to live at all. They choose suicide, while others continue with lives of “quiet desperation.” I urge each of you to face your present sufferings well (“we…rejoice in our sufferings”), so that you will know the deep hope that God gives. I have learned from my sufferings over a lifetime that God can be trusted (faith). This has given me strong hope to go on in the service of God and all his people (love).

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:11-13). Faith, hope and love to you all.


Rosemary said...

Thanks Bob for your honesty and for your guidance. Your blog never fails to encourage and to teach.

Kim said...

Thanks for sharing this message of joyful hope, Bob. If there is anyone who can authentically proclaim it, it is you.