Holding on to Hope

A friend of mine posted pictures of his visit to Auschwitz. The scenes are chilling, gut wrenching. There are so many powerful, profound stories of Holocaust survivors that still cause my heart to sink.

How did they hold on to hope in such a time?

The Christians of Asia to whom John wrote his of revelation lived in constant fear within the Roman Empire. Confessing Jesus Christ instead of the emperor as Lord labeled them as traitors and subversives. We’ve all heard of the atrocities of Nero, the economic persecutions and even martyrdom of many who would not deny their faith.

How did they hold on to hope in such a time?

The Jews of the Exile for whom Isaiah and Jeremiah wrote lived far from their homes as captives of Babylon. Their Temple was destroyed, their holy city lay in ruins. Every family had lost someone in the war and the memories of destruction and defeat continued to break their hearts.

How did they hold on to hope in such a time?

Sometimes I feel so discouraged and powerless and yes – nearly hope-less.

I can hardly bear to listen to the news of horrible stories from the war zones of Syria or Somalia. The mind boggling stories from the disaster areas of Houston or Puerto Rico. The outrageous stories about the antics of our president and United States Congress. The heart breaking stories about gun violence, police violence, domestic violence. The discouraging stories about too many of my friends right here in my own community who – every single day of their life – walk a tightrope between security and disaster.

How do any of us hold on to hope when everything around us seems completely hopeless?

A few years ago, one of my pastoral counseling professors, Dr. Andy Lester, wrote a ground-breaking book about hope. I pull it off my bookshelf and re-read it periodically so that I can find my center again. Dr. Lester teaches that lived hope is grounded in reality, is oriented toward possibility and is made possible within community.

Hope is deeply connected to Reality. Possibility. Community.

When hope is grounded in reality that means we have our eyes wide open. We name our situation honestly and we recognize the challenges clearly. Hope doesn’t see the world through rose-colored-glasses. It is not wishful thinking. It knows how hard this is.

But hope does also see a larger reality, a bigger picture than that which is obvious and visible to our human eyes. Hope counts on this other invisible reality that exists because of God’s existence. A reality that has come into existence through the work of God in the life and work of Jesus Christ.

This is real to the people of Christ – as real as it gets. Even when our visible reality appears to be hopeless, hope taps into the other reality of God’s presence in the world: God’s movement in our lives.

We can look at the facts of our situation and say: “yes – but.” We can look at all the evidence and say: “nevertheless” – something else is true besides just our circumstances. Something else is real besides the obvious. We can see the bigger picture of what God has done and what God is doing.

Christian hope is grounded in the reality of the present and is oriented to the possibilities of the future.

People of faith have always been pointed toward the future. “Faith” means moving toward something we cannot see; stepping out on a path when we don’t know where it will lead; heading in a direction that may be completely irrational and unreasonable. People of faith live with this kind of confidence because people of faith are deeply and irrevocably people of hope.

And where does this hope come from?

Dr. Lester says: “The foundation of hope in the Judeo-Christian tradition is rooted in the character of God, the Creator and Redeemer of the universe.

“What is the character of God? We believe that the God who creates and sustains is primarily characterized by love: agape. The creation and the incarnation reveal the nature of this self-giving love. Jesus Christ is the visible expression of God’s faithfulness to our relationship and gives us reason to hope for the “not-yet-ness” of our future.

“Our hope is in our relationship with this trustworthy God whose character is marked by a faithful, steadfast love for us. As the Lord told Jeremiah: “Surely I know the plans I have for you…plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

When we look toward our future, when our future stories are shaped and fashioned with faith and hope and love, then – no matter what comes our way – we can live our lives with a deep, unshakable peace. We can see the movement of God in our lives and in the world and we can confidently stand on the promises of a future with hope.

Lived hope is grounded in reality, is oriented toward possibility and is made possible within community.

As a matter of fact, Dr. Lester says hope really cannot be lived in isolation; it is community that creates and nurtures faith.

I heard the touching testimony of Jean Estes some time ago. Jean talked about how deeply she had pulled into herself after the death of her grandson; her grief was huge. And yet she was surrounded by a faith community that “held her hope for her” in those days when she could not hold on to hope by herself.

That’s a powerful image, isn’t it? Holding on to hope for one another. Dr. Lester calls it “contagious hope.” The spark of hope that can generate a kind of spontaneous combustion of hope within an entire community

But – there is a flip side.

There is also an “infectious hopelessness” that can take hold within a community.

Sometimes a people will despair over their current circumstances, cannot imagine an alternative, become so fixated by their past that they become closed off to the future.

One good antidote for that kind of gloom is for even a few faithful people to keep themselves grounded in the reality of God’s past and present work of faithfulness and to keep themselves oriented to God’s future with hope. Just a few faithful people living with hope can spark a contagious hope and a joyful generosity within an entire community.

I wonder – who among us is holding hope for us in our current community of faith? Is it you?

The prophetic word of Jeremiah promised the new covenant – God’s way written not on tablets of stone but written on the human heart. God’s promise to forgive sin; God’s promise to restore shalom; God’s promise to be known – truly known, intimately known. This hope for the new covenant is the foundation for Christian faith. Christians see the life, and death and resurrected-eternal life of Jesus the Christ as God’s embodied promise; Christ IS the new covenant in this our new future with hope.

And the Revelation of John pictures the final culmination of the covenant promises of God. John pictures the day when all creation will be restored to wholeness and goodness. The day when our hope will become our final reality.

There is much to be discouraged about in our world. If – as Andy Lester says – we begin by naming our reality then we have to admit things are pretty depressing right now. I don’t know what will come out of our current situation. Sometimes I do feel pretty hopeless and powerless. Sometimes the anger wells up. Sometimes the tears flow. Sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed in the mornings. That’s my reality. Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about.

But Dr. Lester encourages us to not stay there, but rather move on to imagine the possibilities. And when we are grounded in faith, when we can see God’s bigger picture, when we are living in God’s story – we can begin to imagine impossible possibilities.

Because impossible possibilities is the theme of God’s story over and over and over again.

We imagine those bold and hopeful possibilities together, because we are a people who hold on to each other no matter what. A people who hold onto hope for each other through thick and thin.

And we remind each other to hold on to the One who holds on to us.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God, my soul;

God is my help; the Lord is my God.

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,   “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And all God’s people say: Amen

 

Andrew D. Lester, Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).

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Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a graduate of Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth.

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