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 ache.

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

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

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. Some days I feel almost completely hope-less; I can hardly bear to hear the daily news:

  • horrible stories from war zones like Syria or Somalia;
  • mind boggling stories from disaster areas like Haiti or Puerto Rico;
  • outrageous stories about the antics of our president and United States Congress;
  • heart breaking stories about gun violence, police violence, domestic violence;
  • 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 so hopeless?

Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling

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; it helps me 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.

When hope is grounded in reality 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. Hope knows full well how hard this is.

But hope also sees 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 hope 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.”

We trust that 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 always have been oriented towards 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 seem completely irrational and unreasonable.

People who trust live with this kind of confidence because people of faith are deeply and irrevocably people of hope.

And where does such 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.

Hope happens in 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. Just a few faithful people can thwart an epidmic of infectious hopelessness.

A future with hope

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 new covenant hope 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 offers a glimpse of the day when all creation will be restored to wholeness and goodness; the day when we won’t need to hope anymore because hope will become our ultimate reality.

There is much to be discouraged about in our current 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 feel 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 and maybe some of you share this experience with me.

But Dr. Lester encourages us to not stay there. Rather we must move on to imagine future possibilities; we must plant ourselves there: in hope’s rich soil.

We do this together because we are a people who hold on to each other no matter what. We become a people who hold onto hope for each other and imagine bold and hopeful future possibilities.

Impossible possibilities is the constant theme of God’s story.

When we are grounded in faith and hope; when we are shaped by God’s character of self-giving love; when we can see God’s bigger picture; when we are living in God’s story – then we can imagine all sorts of impossible possibilities.

We remind each other to hold on to The One who holds on to us.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?

Why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God, my soul!

God is my help; the Lord is my God.

Psalm 42 and 43

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!”

Revelation 5

And all God’s people say: Amen

Living in The Story readings for Week 42

Jeremiah 40-52

Psalm 124

Psalm 125

Psalm 127

Mark 4-5

Revelation 12-15

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

Credit for the “faith-hope-love” image above: Metal Wall Art by Melissa Crisp. See her work here.

Author: Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and developed Living in The Story while doing doctoral work at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth. Charlotte also blogs about intersections of faith, politics, and culture at CharlotteVaughanCoyle.com.