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.]

Three Ways God Uses Suffering in Our Lives

perseverance

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

The sufferings we endure are not meaningless within the hands of God. This is true regardless of whether we have brought the suffering upon ourselves or whether it has come upon us through the hands of others or our environment. When we put ourselves in the hands of God by faith, our sufferings are invested with another purpose. As the Apostle Paul outlines here in Romans 5, God takes us in the midst of our sufferings and shapes something valuable into our lives.

First, Paul writes, God shapes perseverance into our lives. This is the capacity to keep going, even in the midst of adverse circumstances. Perseverance does not just magically appear in our lives. It is something that we must develop, like a runner suffering through training until she can run a full marathon. While none of us desire suffering, when we submit our suffering to God we free Him to develop perseverance into our lives. Without perseverance, nothing else will come because we will continually push against our circumstances and against God. But as we grow in perseverance, God can have His way in developing us for His glorious purposes.

Along with perseverance, Paul tells us, God uses our sufferings to shape character into our lives. Character is not an abstract gift from God—just an idea about virtue—but is something tangibly confirmed in our lives through the furnace of our trials. If you want character without suffering, you are looking for something else; perhaps a good reputation. If you want character without perseverance, you really want something else; perhaps informational knowledge of what character is. But if we really want character, there is no other way than through the furnace of suffering. Character is developed through trying and testing, like a precious metal refined in the fire as the dross is burned away to reveal its highest quality. Our character is developed and revealed through the fires of suffering combined with our willingness to persevere.

Third, Paul tells us that hope follows character and perseverance when our suffering is given into the hands of God. Hope arises as we persevere amidst the fires of suffering in which character is shaped. Without hope we give up in life, as we know from those who lose a will to live in dire health circumstances or imprisonment. But with hope, we can find meaning in life and keep going. It is by clinging to God by faith amidst suffering that we begin to see that God is indeed doing something else as we bear up in the challenges of life. Contrary to what we perceive with our eyes, God is at work, and this revelation that God is at work brings hope into our lives. We walk by faith and not by sight, as Paul writes elsewhere (2 Corinthians 5:7), but it is hope that keeps us walking. When we yield our sufferings to God, letting Him shape Christlike character in us, hope simultaneously springs up as we realize God has not left us alone and is working in our lives.

All of this meaningful work of God amidst suffering is sustained not by sheer human willpower (although the will is significant), but by the Holy Spirit who is the bond of love tying us into the presence of God through Christ. God is at work, completing what He begins in us (Philippians 1:6). God is working within us with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). And so, even as Christ’s suffering was powerful significant, so, too, when we yield our sufferings to God they bring forth a harvest of righteousness for His glory.

A Resurrection Prayer inspired by the prophet Malachi

Lord of Hosts, you are our great King,
and Your Name is exalted among the nations.
You are the God of love and justice,
the God of faithfulness and generosity.

As with the people of Malachi’s day,
we face our human limitations
and failures most every day,
but particularly in times of trouble.

We admit that our hearts grow cold
in prolonged waiting for You,
and that sometimes we even turn away
from Your will and guidance.

Help us, Lord, when darkness drowns the dawn.
Give us hope’s clear vision of Your promise
that the sun of righteousness will rise upon us
with healing in its rays.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
Our High Priest and Perfect Sacrifice,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be all honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.


This is part of a series of posts with prayers based upon the message of the Minor Prophets:

The First Day

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)

the first day:
walking with heavy loads and burdened hearts
to the place His breathless body lay.
every hour seemed so still
since that dark day.

but now, the first day:
their hesitating procession to the tomb
finds the place, but not Him;
and aching emptiness
meets anger’s anxiety.

yet, on the first day
two men send shivers of loud light
mingled with a message:
‘He’s alive like a new day’s dawning!’
and they remember His words.

this first day is the third day
that sends the dark day running.


This is the seventh in a group of seven original poems composed for Holy Week, including:

Joseph’s Offering

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus….With Pilate’s permission he came and took the body away. (John 19:38)

as the crowd dispersed
i came to honor Him.
perhaps it was too late…
but the cost was real for me,
as others from the Sanhedrin
turned their dark looks upon me.
our entourage gathered His limp form
with painful effort from the tree
and wrapped it with care.

standing there, at the Executioner’s workplace,
i couldn’t help but think that
He deserved more than this;
that my present actions were a feeble attempt
to cover my earlier inaction.

Jesus, wrapped in linen and death’s shadow,
seemed like a gift Jerusalem
was not worthy to hold.
so we took Him to the tomb,
with the women following close,
and placed Him gently within
for safe-keeping until the day of the Lord.
but my heart ached within me.


This is the sixth in a group of seven original poems composed for Holy Week, including: