29 November 2015

Is there really hope?


Mention the words Columbine or Colorado Springs, Sandy Hook, Port Arthur, Paris' Bataclan Theatre, and 9-11 and immediately images of terror and pain, mass murder and head-shaking fill your mind. The world is bad and getting worse. When the G-20 gathers, when Congress or Parliament in Australia or the UK conduct talks and seek answers, most thinking people simply wish them well, but doubt any real substantive changes will occur. Where is there hope?

Last summer I stood in Amsterdam, in the shelter/ home of Anne Frank. If anyone knows daily fear and chronicled it well enough to become the journalist of the new world, it was this mature teenager. She wrote in her diary, “Where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Hope gives life, to be sure, and real hope is even deeper. But in light of recent and continuing terror, I ponder the question, "Is there such a thing as false hope?"

William Ruddick writes in Bioethics, Vol. 13, #3-4, 1999, in his abstract of his piece Hope and Deception: "Convinced of hope's therapeutic benefits, physicians routinely support patients' false hopes, often with family collusion and vague, euphemistic diagnoses and prognoses, if not overt lies. Bioethicists charge them with paternalistic violations of Patient Autonomy." He begins his essay with Ambroise Paré's maxim, "Always give the patient hope, even when death seems at hand." (XVI)

Bildad, a friend of Job the ancient in the bible said these words, "Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the rushes grow without water? While it is still green and not cut down, yet it withers before any other plant. So are the paths of all who forget God; and the hope of the godless will perish, whose confidence is fragile, and whose trust a spider’s web. He trusts in his house, but it does not stand; he holds fast to it, but it does not endure. He thrives before the sun, and his shoots spread out over his garden. His roots wrap around a rock pile, he grasps a house of stones. If he is removed from his place, then it will deny him, saying, ‘I never saw you.’ (Chapter 8.11-18)

Bildad is saying that there is such a thing as false hope. Planting roots of a plant in a rock garden will cause disappointment. So he says, 'the hope of the godless will perish.' What if my hope in education or in government or in a new candidate for government is misplaced? What if my hope is false hope? Where can I turn?

Many of us have been disappointed. We have placed our hope in people and things and they have failed us. The dashing of our hope has caused deep disappointment and the pain of our disappointment has filled us with the fear of being hurt again. That fear has held us back from entering new relationships as freely as we once could. Once burned-twice shy, as the saying goes.

Job says that the hope of the godless fails. He is talking about godless hope-a hope that excludes God and makes us dependent on the things and people of this world for our core fulfillment. This kind of hope often fails because it requires others to be what they don’t have the resources to be – the answer to our need for a relationship with God. In contrast, hope that doesn’t disappoint is centered first in God because it knows that no one can be faithful in a way that God is faithful. No one can love as God can love us. God alone is fully dependable. God alone will not let us down.

Hope is most real when it is based on what we know about someone. It is most dangerous when it is based on unrealistic expectations because that sets us up for another failure.

That's why this picture is so powerful to me.
It's the picture of someone from above a pool, reaching to rescue someone drowning. The actual story which inspired this painting is in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14. In that chapter of the Bible, Yeshua is seen walking on water. Then Peter is looking around and says, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And Yeshua said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Yeshua." Wow, that would have been thrilling. And exhilarating and full of glory! "But seeing the wind, Peter became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Yeshua stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

This story is real to me just now. The Bible makes it clear that God wants to be in relationship with us, not only those who never have heard of Him, or who go from sinner to saint in a prayer. He wants to be in relationship with us who have walked with Him for decades. Each of us fails. Each of us is still walking in feet of clay. God's hand is not so short that it cannot save us. (Isaiah 59.2) Our sins separate us from Him, but His hand is ever reaching to get us out of the troubles in which we find ourselves. Hope "does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5.5)

This is for believers AND for unbelievers. This is for those who are new to the faith and those who are long involved. Hope does not disappoint. Thanks be to God!

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