Reviving Hope: How God Helps Those Who Cannot Help Themselves
I will never forget the moment when hope died in me. Over and over again, the cadre in the Army school I had attended would yell, “Hope is not a course of action!” Within this frame of mind, I began to believe that hope was nothing more than a fancy pipe dream—where I placed my trust in something outside of my control. Hope was simply a wish for something better. Hope was the illusion that if I could get a night off from patrolling the desert looking for enemies, life would be good. If I could get an actual meal and not eat an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), things would be better.
And then it happened. In the midst of an infiltration in the middle of the night, where every single plan was failing to come to fruition, hope died inside of me. I came to believe that hope was not a course of action. Action and hope were in no way related. Hope was fanciful, wishful thinking, and useless. Action was of a completely different nature. If my team was going to succeed in effectively accomplishing our mission, it was in our hands—not some illusion of hope.
The Competing Philosophies of Hope versus No Hope
Years later when the Lord Jesus Christ called me to himself, there was an inescapable pattern of hope in his authoritative word. In fact, hope seemed to be one of the primary attributes of the believer (see Hebrews 11). Yet this hope was not just wishful thinking, but a certain future reality.
The more I wrestled with this idea of hope, the more often I found myself at the crossroads of competing philosophies of hope versus no hope. Even harder to grasp was embracing hope in the midst of suffering. Deep down, if we are honest, suffering has a way of igniting in us the desire to escape pain by any and all possible means.
The problem with this view of working our way out of suffering is that it is a conscious effort to cut off the road of hope that God often intends to use to reveal more of himself and conform us to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). In his grace, God is jealous for us and will wage war against our efforts when they get in the way of his sovereign purposes.
The Growth of Hope in Our Suffering
Recently I have been spending time studying Lamentations. This vivid book about the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar has been a means of God planting and growing the seeds of hope in my life. In fact, the Gospel Project video on Lamentations says, “God’s judgment is the seedbed of hope.”
In this eyewitness testimony of lament, the prophets, priests, and kings have become nothing (Lam. 2:9-10), the glory of the Temple lies in ruins (2:7-8), and everything else that the people of God could cling to for hope has been removed. The daunting reality is that God’s people cannot escape this judgment by their own power, and everywhere they look there is nothing and no one that can help them escape this suffering, but God.
Throughout the book of Lamentations, we see a glimmer of hope properly placed on God—and God alone. We see their plea for God to look upon them several times (1:11, 20; 2:20; 5:1). Empty handed, weak, and broken-hearted, God’s people cry out for him to see their plight. This is the course of action God intends for his people—to exercise hope. It is a hope that places all trust and dependence upon God for rescue and joy.
Hope in the Promise Maker and Promise Keeper
The good news is that we are not the first to wrestle with suffering and the function of hope. After the author of the book of Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), we get a picture of our hope and the joy that follows suffering in the person and work of Christ.
In Hebrews 12:2 we hear about Jesus as the Suffering Servant who endured the cross for his people. But we also get a glimpse of the joyful hope that resided in his soul on the cross: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The Lord Jesus Christ saw hope as a joyful course of action, firmly believing that his Father would raise him from the suffering of the cross to eternal bliss. Hope was not a pipe dream but an action and future reality. Likewise, in our suffering we are to be a people who fix our eyes on Jesus (Col. 3:1-4) and joyfully put our hope in him as the promise maker and promise keeper whom we will one day see face-to-face.
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