Monday, February 28, 2011

False Hope and the Real Deal



This is the third post in a series on overcoming fear with hope.

Each Friday after work Natalie drove 90 miles to visit her boyfriend.  This made her mother a little jumpy.  Natalie was only nineteen and an only child.  However, it was the return trip that drove her mother’s blood pressure through the roof.

Natalie never started the Sunday ride home before midnight.  Her mother endured weekly visions of highway carnage until Natalie walked in the door as Sunday turned to Monday.

Natalie came to see me about what she saw as her mother’s unreasonable behavior.

She said something like this: “I don’t know what she’s all upset about.  I believe in Jesus.  He wouldn’t let anything happen to me.”

Apparently Natalie had missed that bit about Christian martyrs in her history lessons.

Hope liberates us from fear.  But false hope is a spiritual car wreck waiting to happen.  Natalie’s story illustrates for us a common enough misconception about hope.

Natalie assumes that faith in Jesus protects her from harm, danger and suffering.  What she calls hope is based on a transaction she believes she’s made with God. 

That transaction goes something like this.  If I believe in Jesus God will guarantee me the future I want.  God owes me good things and, if he keeps his end of the bargain, he will protect me from danger.

Natalie wants to visit her boyfriend.  She believes that God’s supernatural protection gives her a pass from all the obvious dangers of late-night, mountainous road driving. 

Her version of hope allows her to dispose of common sense and prudence.  She can take unreasonable risks because God owes her one.

Let me make a few things clear.  Natalie really did have a sincere, if na├»ve, faith.  I had the common sense to stay out of the triangle between Natalie and her mom.  And Natalie is not a code name for my daughter.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get back to hope and its counterfeit.

If hope comes down to Natalie’s view of things, then we’re all in for a bad time of it.  God will inevitably let us down.  Each of us will know disappointment, frustration, sorrow, and pain.  Life doesn’t suddenly become fair or seamless for followers of Jesus.

Thanks be to God, Natalie did not have this hope thing right.  Let’s talk about the real deal.

Genuine hope lies in what Jesus actually promises.  His resurrection promises us new life—new life on this side of the grave and on the other side as well.

Let’s set aside life after this life for now and concentrate on what the resurrection means for us right now. 

Maybe you’ve heard someone sincerely say, “My life is ruined.”  Even if they don’t say it in so many words, some of us come to places where we can see no way forward.

A child dies.  A loved one endures terrible illness.  A bitter divorce.  A public scandal.  

Financial collapse.  Diminished health.  Career failure.

Jesus does not promise to prevent such things as if by magic (although sometimes the Lord does intervene miraculously; why sometimes and not others is another topic for another time).  Instead, his resurrection insures us that such things will not be the last word.

Hope sometimes means that we will be given the power to endure what we thought would crush us.  And indeed, without the support of Christ that is exactly what would have happened.  We would have ended in despair or bitterness or cynicism.

Although we may suffer, Christ’s resurrection promises us new life after we pass through the valley of the shadow of death.  And this life is not less but more than it was before the events beset us.

I do not believe that Jesus sends trials and suffering to make us grow.  But I do believe that he uses them as the occasion to nurture us toward eternal life.

One of my favorite passages comes from St. Paul.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  (Romans 8:28; NIV)

By God’s grace, a broken heart does not stop beating.  Neither does it labor from beat to beat yearning to be done with life.  Instead, the power of the resurrection makes a broken heart at once more courageous and tender in its capacity to love.

In the hands of God, patience, perseverance, understanding, wisdom, peace, joy, love and kindness are the fruits of life’s changes and chances.

This is the hope that conquers fear.  In the next post, we’ll look at how to avail ourselves more fully of genuine hope and how that will liberate us from various fears.

5 comments:

  1. I wonder if the pathway to hope must go through some ordeal - trial and suffering of some sort - in order to make hope visible. You had mentioned in a reply to an earlier post that Camus had said the only hope is to know there's no hope. Perhaps he had worked back to a place from which his belief (or unbelief? Camus was an atheist?) gave no visible light. Walker Percy had worked it back to this point and found a next step ( I suppose Kierkegaard helped!) to hope that did conquer fear. His writings and characters are replete with examples of descending to the depths of depression or physical hardship and, then somehow coming upon a truth that begins to make their own life feel like life. That process entails losing social status, occupation, loved ones and/or a threat of losing their life before this epiphany comes to them and draws the curtain of 'everydayness' that obscures true life. It sounds similar to the descriptions of changed perceptions after near-death experiences or after diagnosis of terminal illness. It brings to mind the parable of the man who having built his house on the sand has it washed away in the storm and the man who lays a strong foundation by building upon the rock. Perhaps they are the same man, who having been chastened by the ordeal, now can see where the true foundation of his life's work should be.

    John Goddard

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for sharing this post; it is very helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  3. John, it does seem to me that hope becomes most vivid in the midst of adversity, trial, sorrow and the like. Conversely, these are also the occasions upon which despair sweeps some away. The difference maker is faith. Your reference to the parable of the houses built on sand and on rock is right on point.

    As I recall, Camus spent his early adult years as an atheist but inched his way back toward the Roman Catholic faith of his youth. The details are lost in the mists of my memory, however.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm not sure I do understand how hope helps us overcome fear. I am sometimes more inclined to let go of hope and accept th new reality in order to move forward. How do you differentiate hope and faith? Is hope based on something experiential and faith spiritual based, requiring belief in things unseen?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for these good questions. Maybe some others reads will have some thoughts in addition to those I give now.

    For starters, sometimes hope does involve accepting reality on its own terms. But this should not be confused with a bitter resignation. Hope always expands our sense of God's grace and power and our own security in his care. Mere resignation leads us to lower our sights about our own life and other people.

    Hope arises from faith. To oversimplify, faith is trusting in God--believing that he is who is says he is and relying upon his promises. Hope is moving forward with the belief that this God is at work bringing his promises to fruition no matte how the present may look.

    Hope and faith alike are about more than feelings and attitudes (although these are certainly involved). Both involve what we will and what we actually do. Hope does not eliminate risk, but it gives us the courage to move forward with the belief that the sovereign God moves ahead with us.

    ReplyDelete