In the past month my television viewing has run the gamut from Little Einsteins and Octonauts, with the six and five year-old brother and sister I babysat for a few days, to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and two seasons of Downton Abbey with my girls. But it was during one of those year-in-review news programs that it finally dawned on me just how much of our history, science, culture, and even entertainment continually celebrate the resilience of the human spirit.
It is a good thing when we, who have become so jaded, so easily bored, still experience awe and wonder at the capability of human beings to survive and eventually even thrive after overwhelming natural disasters, like hurricane Sandy; in the face unspeakable horror, like the mass shooting and murder of twenty innocent kindergartners in Newton; and against all odds, like the many stories of those who should have died, yet lived, of loved ones thought lost forever who were found and returned to families who never stopped believing, and innocent people who would have died in prison, but were set free by the truth and choose forgiveness and healing, over anger or bitterness.
This resilience, this fortitude, this endurance of humankind may be summed up and explained in a single word, hope. Every day, in ourselves and all around us, we see irrefutable evidence that “hope springs eternal in the human breast”. It is why we enter yet another PCH sweepstake, or resolve once again to lose weight; why tens of thousands flock to Times Square on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the possibility of a better year and why those exhausted parents still pray at the bedside of their cancer-stricken child lying in St. Jude’s Research Hospital even after the doctors have done all they can do.
Hope rises in our hearts like a determined plant pushing, forcing, its way through that single crack in the concrete sidewalk, against all reason and rationale, to produce a single bloom; a flower blossoming where no flower should be. So we say, ‘while there is life, there is hope’, but the converse is also true, because while there is hope, life remains. If all hope is gone we die, even while we live, but where there is even the smallest flicker of hope, there is life, even if we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death itself, that great equalizer of men and extinguisher of life and hope.
Life and hope are inextricably linked, but hope does not exist in a vacuum. In his poem Work Without Hope, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote,
“Hope without an object cannot live.”
Thus, even more significant than the mere presence of hope, is the overwhelming importance of the object of our hope. The only kind of hope worth having must have a solid foundation it is built on; a source, some constant fuel that keeps it alive and burning in the brightest daylight or the darkest night, with enough power to bring to pass and make real the very things we hope for.
In fact, the object of our hope is the very essence of religion, even for those who claim to follow no religion at all. Where we choose to place our hope reveals who or what we truly worship (give the highest value to), exposes our motives, charts the course of our desires and determines where we invest our resources.
Some choose to put their hope in nature; in the natural order of things, building their lives and belief systems on the unsure and constantly shifting foundation of scientific research and discovery. Others choose to place their hope in humanity; believing that when all is said and done the good that exists in the human heart will eventually overcome all that is flawed, self-centered and evil in each of us; that wars will end, gun control or something else we come up with will stop mass shootings, and the United States Congress will pay off this country’s debt and balance the budget.
As for me, while I respect the immense faith of those who put their hope in nature, or in mankind, I choose to put my hope in God; in His power, plan, and purpose as revealed in the sixty-six books of the Bible, written by at least forty different authors, on three continents, in three languages over a period of 1600 years, yet never changing or contradicting each other and all agreeing that the very essence of His being is perfect love for every last one of us. Yes, I choose to put all my hope in that, right there!
In his letter to the church in Rome the apostle Paul wrote,
“For whatever things were written before, were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope… Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:4,13
The Psalmist David wrote,
“You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word…Uphold me according to Your word that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” Psalm 119:114, 116.
Hundreds of years later Corrie ten Boom found sustaining hope in those very words, amidst the horror of life in a German concentration camp, as told in her autobiography, The Hiding Place.
“Nothing will change you more deeply or sustain you with more hope than hearing God speak to you in the Bible.” (Dr. Larry Crabb in 66 Love Letters)
Life is always uncertain, and none of us knows what the future holds,
“…But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore, I… will… hope… in… Him.’” Lamentations 3:21-24
Just living the thing.