“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” ~Desmond Tutu
This writing was originally posted on Facebook in October, 2009
A few years ago, I had a meaningful discussion with someone who has been a major figure throughout my life–we’ll call him “Adam” (not his real name). During our conversation, I asked him a question that I had considered asking him for some time. Adam has always been someone with a superseding sense of responsibility and obligation, but I cannot remember an instance where he used the word ‘love’ in appropriate context towards another person. While we were traveling and he was a captive audience, I took the opportunity to ask Adam why he never used the word “love,” instead, making any good and right action of his a matter of responsibility–of obligation.
Now, at the time I had asked this question, it had been positioned in a way, where an apology for his callousness towards others may have been the best answer. However, a man who has long been challenged with both forgiving and asking for forgiveness, Adam provided me with an explanation—and an explanation solely.
To say that Adam has endured a substantial amount of pain and suffering during his lifetime would be an understatement. This is a man who didn’t have the opportunity to know his father as an adult, losing him at a young age–his father collapsing from a heart attack right in front of him. He watched the two best friends he ever had die in front of him; one while in college…another at war. As a soldier, Adam was in extensive combat, and remembers—after shooting and killing an enemy soldier who had attempted to kill him and others in the middle of a village— finding a picture of that soldier’s wife and child while searching the body for military intelligence. There was a time, where he had even considered joining the priesthood, but love for a woman (we’ll call her Eve) led him to refrain. While at war overseas, Eve left him too.
Adam shared with me that he was afraid to love anyone with an open heart after all the pain and suffering he had seen and endured. He could no longer handle the vulnerability that came with loving others that way. An intelligent person in many respects, Adam told me that he recognized there were two things that were needed to truly love others, and that he no longer had either: trust and faith. He was unwilling to put trust in another human being and could not believe that if the God he grew up loving existed that He would allow all this pain and suffering to occur in his life and in the world around him. And, as Adam explained it, without those two things—trust and faith— there is no possibility for hope. As one could imagine, while I appreciated the honest response to my question, it was extremely difficult to hear Adam speak of his inability to love–to hear about his hopelessness. Adam concluded our conversation by telling me that my faith is what separates the way he and I view life (let’s just say he and I view life quite differently).
My conversation with Adam left me dwelling on the topic for some time following. To live without hope or love is something I cannot fathom. Yet, to be able to completely lose hope having once possessed it was also perplexing to me…that was, until a small group discussion on Galatians a short while after. During that small group meeting, I realized that there is ‘hope’ and then there is ‘HOPE.’ Adam had actually, in a subtle way, pointed this out to me, but it did not register in my mind until that evening in small group.
There is a humanistic ‘hope,’ one where we believe we can perform admirably and things will work out. Then there is a HOPE BEYOND HOPE that is founded in faith and love. The problem with the humanistic perspective of hope is that there is a statute of limitations—a set period of time reasonable to believe that a desired change can happen as one desires it (and it is dependent on us or others). For example, someone can hope to become a Little League World Series champion, but once you have passed the age requirement–with the exception being those with excellent, fraudulent documentation–there is no means to have that hope fulfilled. With HOPE BEYOND HOPE, however, there is no statute of limitations. HOPE BEYOND HOPE has no expiration date. Let me explain…
HOPE BEYOND HOPE depends on faith that God will provide to us what we need. This word ‘need’ is an important word in the definition, because HOPE BEYOND HOPE does not guarantee that we will receive what we ‘want.’ Furthermore, it necessitates an acceptance and understanding of God’s infallibility–His omniscience and omnipotence (His sovereignty). Without such an understanding, HOPE BEYOND HOPE will not possess a foundation suitable for weathering the most difficult storms that arise in our lives. In short, it is complete dependence of God, regardless of current circumstances.
Let us consider the differences between ‘hope’ and ‘HOPE BEYOND HOPE’ using football as an illustration. For context, let us say that the New England Patriots are playing the Giants in the Super Bowl. There is less than a minute to go in the game, and the Patriots need a touchdown to complete a perfect season. Humanistic ‘hope’ for Patriots’ fans ended with an incomplete pass by Tom Brady on fourth down, the Giants running out the clock, and confetti unjustly littering the field. HOPE BEYOND HOPE, however, is the belief that God could still have Tom Brady throw a game winning ‘Hail Mary’ pass to Randy Moss—years after time had expired—satisfying every Patriots fan’s annual need for another Super Bowl victory (we’re a bit down on the quota lately). Yes, it is unlikely that God will choose to step-in to change this outcome, but it is possible that HE COULD.
More appropriately, HOPE BEYOND HOPE is at play when we are waiting on God to fulfill the promises He made to us…
A perfect example is from the book of Genesis, with the story of Abram and his wife, Sarai. God had promised Abram offspring; that he would be the Father of a great nation. The Lord, just so happens to also be a supporter of monogamous relationships. However, as Abram’s wife, Sarai, reached an age where woman were long incapable of bearing children, he took it upon himself to make God’s promise a reality—with assistance from his wife. Abram took his wife’s maid servant, Hagar, and had a child, Ishmael, with her. He and his wife had passed the point of ‘hope,’ and were not yet possessing a HOPE BEYOND HOPE.
However, Abram’s initiative was hasty, and had not been a fulfillment of God’s promise to him. Instead, the Lord had Abram’s (now renamed Abraham meaning “father of many”) wife Sarai (now renamed Sarah meaning “my princess”) birth a child at the age of ninety. When Sarah had originally been told that she would bear a son at such an old age, she had laughed. In a humorous aftermath, the child she bore was named “Isaac,” meaning “he laughs”.
Following this miracle, Abraham came to be inundated with HOPE BEYOND HOPE. Now, with a son of whom it was promised a nation would be born, God asked Abraham to sacrifice that same son to Him. Understandably devastated, Abraham took his son to the mountain to be sacrificed. However, it was a test of his faith and obedience from the Lord, and his son was spared. Even if Isaac had been sacrificed, Abraham trusted God’s goodness and believed that He would have kept His promise of making him the father of many nations.
Another example of HOPE BEYOND HOPE is found in the Gospel (John 11:1-46), with the death of Lazarus. Jesus is away, traveling with his apostles, when he is informed that Lazarus, a man whom he loves very much, is sick. Rather than rush to his side, Jesus waits two days before traveling to be with Lazarus. Jesus knows that he will arrive to find Lazarus dead, but Lazarus will not remain dead…
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into this world.”
And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,”said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.
HOPE BEYOND HOPE is what gets me through life’s hurdles. God wants us to love Him, trust Him, and have faith in Him. He wants these things because He loves us and knows what is best for us. He is best for us–and we give Him glory when we seek a personal relationship with Him. And to be an example of such love, we too, are expected to put trust in others, love others, and have faith in others—representative of being His ambassador. Will we eventually get hurt and betrayed, possibly abandoned? Yes–it is in some ways a guarantee (John 15:18-21; 1 Peter 4:12-13; 1 Peter 2:20-24; Romans 8:16-18; Romans 8:35-39; Matt 5:10-12; 2 Cor 12:9-10). For Adam, the suffering he endured was too much to handle–he didn’t have faith. He didn’t have HOPE BEYOND HOPE. If our foundation is built on our trust and faith in our Lord, however, our hearts will not collapse into permanent disrepair. We will forgive, grant mercy, and continue to love those who allow us to love them.
Look past hope. Hold onto a HOPE BEYOND HOPE.