What Happens When People Do Not Have Hope?

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What happens when people do not have hope?

What happens when a young man or young woman looks to the future and the lack of hope has dimmed all brightness in those days to come?

What happens when people do not have hope?

What happens when an older woman or an older man looks to their final days and feels the emptiness of hopeless hours stretching on to the end of their life?

What happens when people do not have hope?

What happens when a person of one skin color looks at the life of a person with another skin color, notes the inseparable distance, and feels hope crash in the difficult journey to justice?

What happens when people do not have hope?

What happens when a person flees their homeland marked by violence or lack of opportunity for a new land in hope of finding something different but quickly discovers not only that there are no streets of gold but that they are viewed forever as an outsider who does not belong?

What happens when people do not have hope?

I cannot help but think of Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem,” on this very subject, which says:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

When hope dies, a life might dry up or fester. Life might seem to stink or grow hard and crust over. Life without hope might sag or it might explode.

image 1 - COVID-19

We’re in a crisis of hope right now in our world and nation. That crisis of hope was precipitated by a pandemic that brought us face to face with our mortality, our limits, our fears, and our inability to work together. It raised questions about our health and our finances, our present and our future, our living and our dying. In this pandemic, we may feel fear, anger, anxiety, or frustration rise up within us. And it puts to the test our ability to hope as we ask: “when or how will this situation change?”

image 2 - I can't breath

That crisis of hope in our world continues into the present moment of the surging pain related to racial justice. Seeing the death of George Floyd put in stark terms the series of deaths that we cannot ignore and bursting forth around our nation and around our world was another crisis of hope that brought us face to face with questions about identity, skin color, and the vast, painful difference between reality and the aspirations of “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” As people hit the streets around the world, it pushes us into a crisis of hope where we may wonder: “will anything change?”

Living without hope is nearly impossible.

But when hope exists, everything changes.

What happens when people have hope?

Young women and men step forward toward brighter days.

Older men and women feel that even the diminishment of life is not empty but can be abundant.

What happens when people have hope?

People of many backgrounds – many skin colors and many countries of origin – can stand together and work together toward a powerful just and righteous future.

Hope is powerful.

It is, as Emily Dickinson wrote,

..the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all

Hope is that characteristic of our lives with two parts:

  1. The longing for something that is not present
  2. The expectation that one will receive it

Now, the Christian life is, if anything, a life fixed upon hope. We hear in God’s word His promises and we believe that we will receive what God promises. This shapes our understanding of salvation; our belief that God has done something in Christ that we can receive from God now and hope for unto eternity. In the Christian life we are pilgrims on the way with God and this is fueled by hope. As we read in 2 Peter 1:4

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4)

At a practical level, prayer is guided by hope. We reach out to God, trusting He will hear us and will give us what we most need, if not what we always ask for. Without hope we could not pray.

Without hope, we are lost. But with hope, we have a future.

[This is an excerpt from my message, “Anchored in Hope,” from June 14, 2020, at Eastbrook Church.]

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