Hope is paramount. At least in
Paul’s eyes! As he wrote a letter to his Roman friends, he introduced God to
them as the God of Hope. From Paul’s perspective, hope is God’s defining
Hope is the fuel that runs the engine of life. Giving up hope is similar
to suicide. Hope is the reason we keep on trying. Hope is the germ of optimism
that keeps us going. My German grandma always kept her dry sense of humor in
situations that weren’t funny. In World War II scenario she raised three of her
five children mostly as single Mom – initially because her husband was engaged
in the war, later because she divorced him. One of her sayings as her children
sat around the dinner table:
Nur kein Papa!” which translated means:
“Everything is there
Just no Dad!”
That was her way of saying: We’re doing pretty well without him. My
grandmother had guts and spunk. She was one of those people we called in German
“Stehaufmännchen” – a tumbler who always gets up when knocked down.
I learnt from my Grandma to always get up and to never give up hope. Yet contrary to her awareness we do have a Father. I found out in the course of my life that God is a parent. He is the One Jesus called: “Our Heavenly Father”.
We are not fatherless and we are not hopeless. God is our Father and He
cares for us. We have a place in His heart, and we have a place in this life.
To misquote my Grandma:
It’s no secret that our thought life impacts our actions and well-being. If we think that our life is worth living, if we believe that there is hope for our future, if we have plans and ideals that we strive for and people we love and care for, this tremendously influences our outlook on life. However, we all know how it feels when we run into a dry spell. How we negotiate such dry spells depends entirely on how we think about it, and this is what Paul addresses in his letter to his Greek friends in East Macedonia.
A few years back, I had a near-death-experience after an unsuccessful second heart surgery. For a while, I felt my life was drawing to an end. Naturally, this has had a profound impact on my psyche. Thinking I’d soon be gone, I wanted to leave a good impression, so in all life aspects I gave it my best shot. I was really wrapping up my life to get my affairs in order so-to-speak. However, this was back in 2014. Meanwhile, I’ve made it through another heart surgery, and here I am, still kicking. Eventually, I had to shift gears because my life was not about to end any time soon. At some point I had to resolve to give life another chance. Think about it: regardless how much time we have left, we have things working for us. We need to open our eyes, we need to get inspired, and as we keep thinking about these things hope rises in our hearts. A life without hope is no life at all. The Bible says very wisely (Proverbs 13:12):
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
The trick is not to lose hope. God for One never does, so we turn to Him for encouragement. God also uses people to encourage us. Whatever our outlook on life, let’s not forget, it’s never as dark as it seems. And after a long night – here comes the Sun and with it a brand-new day!
Jim Morrison expressed a depressed mind in the lyrics of his last song Riders on the Storm:
“Into this house we’re born, into this world we’re thrown like a dog without a bone, an actor out on loan.”
The human heart seems to have its own digestive system. As our stomach passes the food, so our heart passes our human experience. Much like how we have different stomachs with different digestive abilities, so hearts process our human experience differently – never mind that we all have different experiences to begin with. I am writing this to create awareness and empathy, because what is meant to be an encouragement to say things like: “Pull yourself together, tomorrow is another day” may help a person with a more robust heart, but may actually be quite counterproductive to someone with a fragile heart.
Throughout their history some humans have been known to battle depression. In several books of the Bible we find characters exhibiting the symptoms of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, anxiety, and irritability. I find no better book than the book of Psalms to voice these emotions. In the book of Psalms we find people venting to God in a scathingly honest way (Psalm 143:7-8):
“Come quickly, Lord and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don’t turn away from me, or I will die. Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.”
King Solomon had an exceptional ability to express his depressed state of mind. Here is how he thinks – spoiler alert, it’s pretty dark (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20):
“Humans and animals come to the same end – humans die, animals die. We all breathe the same air. So there’s really no advantage in being human. None! Everything’s smoke! We all end up in the same place – we all came from dust, we all end up as dust. Nobody knows for sure that the human spirit rises to heaven or that the animal spirit sinks into the earth. So I made up my mind that there’s nothing better for us men and women than to have a good time in whatever we do – that’s our lot. Who knows if there’s anything else to life?”
Many people wrestle with such thoughts. Everything on earth has an expiration date, our lives included. However, our dusty frame carries some precious cargo: it’s the wonderful message that God loves us. The less we look up to God, the less real His love can become to us. We can get lost in the muddiness of life that way. It’s important to turn our eyes on Jesus to remember: we are loved. Paul wrote to the Greeks in the city of Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:7):
If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”
I think our early history with God has a lot to do with our present brokenness. Our heart was made to love. We were created out of love: God created us to love us, and we were created to love Him and our human counterparts. We were not created to make war or to make money; we were created to be loved and to reflect this incredible love we’re receiving. That’s how we are originally wired. When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden major dysfunctions began to surface. We know now perhaps better than anybody that distance between Creator and created causes corruption and death.
Still, the good news is that we can have hope. Even though God may feel like a million miles away at times, He is close to the brokenhearted. He is known to be tender and merciful. Even as we age, which is death’s prelude, He renews us from the inside. And when our life is over, then we know that the best is yet to come.
Psalm 42:5: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!”
A flowering shrub named Lantana, very popular in desert climates, has always fascinated me. We used to have one in our backyard, and from time to time we cut her down to the bare bones. All that was left were leafless twigs, a quite depressing sight to any gardener. But wait – if you came back in less than a week, then voilà: brand-new sprouting little leaves are now covering the sticks. I guess this could count as an example for: “struck down, but not destroyed!”
Praying to God will give us a different outlook. God will bless us with a vision when there’s just brown and naked soil all around us. Opening our eyes, He lets us see the signs of spring in the middle of a long and dreary winter. We come across wintry situations everywhere in the Bible, probably because life’s dark seasons, as much as we hate them, happen to everybody; God encourages us to look up in those situations, just as He encouraged Prophet Elisha and his servant.
In the second book of Kings we read how Elisha befriended King Joram. King Joram’s legislature in Israel lasted around 10 years, between 850-840 BC. During that time war broke out between Aram-Damascus and Israel. When King Joram appeared to be at an advantage, the enemy investigated the matter and soon found out that it was Prophet Elisha’s doing who revealed their plans to Israel’s king on several occasions. Once the enemy got wind of the situation, they threatened to kill Elisha. So, under night cover an army of soldiers closed in on Dothan, Elisha’s hometown, and in the morning Dothan was militarily surrounded with no way out. Terrified, Elisha’s servant addressed the situation with his master. Following is an excerpt of the ensuing conversation (2 King 6:15-17):
“‘Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?’ the servant asked.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’
And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
It is all a matter of perspective! Of course there’s virtually no perspective when we are blind to the things that are actually working for us. In the end, we all need the Lord to remove our blinders, just as He did for Prophet Elisha’s servant. Have you ever been in a situation with your back to the wall and no way to go? God is famous for opening up new ways. After a mass-exodus out of Egypt, God led half a million people through uninhabitable wilderness for a time period extending to four decades. One of the most striking transits during that time was the hike of the young nation of Israel through the Red Sea.
If God can take care of half a million people in the Sinai Desert, He can take care of you and me in life’s bleak situations. If we are in the dark and can’t see the light, we need to pray to the Light of the World, Jesus. As Jesus reveals Himself to us, we will begin to see the world in a different light. We will experience hope. We will see the proverbial rose hidden beneath the deepest snows. To see that rose we must believe.
“Beneath the deepest snows, The secret of a rose Is merely that it knows You must believe in Spring!” (Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Jacques Demy, Michel Legrand)