A wise man once said that people need three things to be happy: someone or something to love, something to do that provides meaning, and something that gives hope. The Oxford Languages dictionary defines hope as ‘a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.’ When used as a verb, to hope is to ‘want something to happen or to be the case.’ We look forward to things. It’s part of our nature. It’s hard wired into us to be expectant, whether we actively or unconsciously look forward to things, it is part of our fabric. In reality, having hope is necessary for life and its absence in some ways is as threatening to us as lacking oxygen.
Hopelessness, as the opposite of hopefulness, is defined as ‘feeling, or being in, a state of despair,’ and its first cousin is worry. We worry about our health, our loved ones’ health, our jobs, our rights, our future, our retirement portfolios – or lack thereof, how to put food on the table, and how to make ends meet. We don’t have to go looking for worry; it comes looking for us, relentlessly presenting us with threats that have the power to dismantle our lives. Even having values that differ from the mainstream or popular opinion can be threatening if made publicly known. There is no room for honest mistakes or genuine debate. The world is simultaneously tolerant of moral failure and corruption, and intolerant of the most well-meaning people if their beliefs and motivations fall outside the fickle ebb and flow of political or social correctness. Saying the wrong thing can bring not only humiliation, but an onslaught of attackers that feel it’s their moral duty to get offenders fired from their jobs and to completely destroy their unapproved ways of living.
For much of the world, the 2020 presidential election was concurrently a source of extreme fear and great hope. The right person would save the world from communism and cancel culture, or from rampant self-serving patriarchy and white supremacy. Partisan networks told the world that the wrong outcome was threatening to our very existence. The world is literally paralyzed by COVID-19. Around the globe people have isolated themselves from friends and family and they’re counting the days until they can get the COVID vaccine and continue living again. The common theme is that their hope (whether they know it or not) has been placed in a politician or a vaccine. Reading or watching the news makes it apparent that we are culturally divided, and often we find that our hope has also been placed in stimulus checks, the police, protests, the Constitution, Supreme Court justices, and any number of other worldly institutions. There are good people the world over with opposite and competing hopes; and it seems that human complexity has been reduced to single issues that make one categorically good or bad. There is a choice to be made, and it must be made. Are you with us or against us? You must lock arms with your party, your friends, your families, and hope that things work out for your side.
C.S. Lewis tells us in Mere Christianity that problems come in twos. In the radio broadcast which was eventually turned into the book loved for decades by Christians around the world, Lewis told listeners/readers, “He [the devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. ” The world tells us to pick a side on complex, multifaceted issues. There is an unofficial cultural mandate today: choose between Republicans and Democrats, Left or Right, and any number of an ever expanding list of either or choices. Some people see these forced choices as literally siding with good or evil. Well-meaning people quickly find themselves entrenched on one side or the other of these opposites Lewis warned us about embracing, and they find themselves in the devil’s trap. As they say, the road to ruin is paved with the best intentions, and those intentions are often rooted in the things for which we hope. So, I ask: Where is your hope? Do you hope in the things of this world? Have you chosen one of the pairs of opposites referenced by Lewis? Have you pinned your hopes to an ideology, a politician, a job, a bank account, a spouse, a child, a friend? Many of us do this unintentionally, and the consequences of this misplaced hope can be crushing.
As Christians, we intuitively know that we should place our hope – our truest hope - in Christ. In so doing, we find our ultimate hope in the salvation offered by our acceptance of Jesus as both a personal Savior and the Savior of mankind. There is no greater, more powerful, or more reliable hope. In the Sermon on the Mount, effectively an outline for Christian living given directly from the mouth of Jesus, we’re taught that anyone who hears His words and does them is like a man that builds his home on rock foundation. Those who hear and don’t listen are people who build their homes on sand (Matthew 7: 24-27). When the rain and wind comes, my prayer is that you find your home is built on a foundation of rock and not on sand.
If we place our hope in jobs, money, or politics, we will eventually find ourselves let down. Spouses, as loving as they may be, will fail us. So will our kids and our best friends. Most times people don’t mean us harm, but people by nature are imperfect, and as the objects of our hope, they yield imperfect results. Jobs are sometimes satisfying, but ultimately can’t be completely fulfilling. Money can be a vehicle to some happiness, but eventually it also loses its ability to gratify. Possessions eventually lose their luster. The only thing that will never let us down is God, and in particular, the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Placing your hope in Jesus and genuinely seeking to know and understand Him with a humble heart will allow you to meet and know the living God. There is no greater peace or hope.
So, again, I ask – where is your hope? Is it in a politician? Is it in a vaccine? Is it in your work? Being tested by the religious leaders of the day when asked if it is right to pay taxes to the emperor, Jesus famously asked for them to show him a coin that they would use to pay taxes. He asked whose likeness was on the coin. When they replied that it was the emperor’s, Jesus told them to give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to give to God the things that are God’s (Mark 12:13-17, Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 20:20-26). As Christians, we must give God what is rightfully His- namely our love and devotion. In so doing, we find ourselves able to experience a hope that is unwavering and pure. As that wise man said, we need someone to love, something to do, and we need hope. Place your hope in Him, and no matter what comes – because something always comes – you can cling to a hope built on rock and not on sand.
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