I have never lived through a time when all of the things I have taken for granted seem to be disintegrating before my very eyes. No matter where I look – in culture, in religion, in politics, in the realm of healthcare, education and indeed in all the previously accepted certainties we have had in our society – everything is up for grabs – or falling apart – all depending on your point of view.
And in the middle of it all I detect much frustration, anger, despair and hopelessness. For many people life as they knew it no longer exists. As I mentioned in a previous post I believe, at this moment, depression and suicide are at epidemic level.
It is very interesting to notice that it is in the darkest of times and experiences recorded in the Bible that the word ‘hope’, both in its negative aspect as well as its positive, is most prominent. In the book of Job, where all hope seems abandoned and Job cries out in his despair – ‘My days fly faster than a weaver’s shuttle – they end without hope’ – he is still able to say in a more positive moment – ‘Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and will rest in safety’.
And it is this vacillation between despair and hope that many are experiencings in these days.
The Prophet Jeremiah lived through the darkest of times in the life of his nation – and such was his brokenness at what he foresaw that he is referred to as ‘The Weeping Prophet’. He knew without doubt that his nation was headed for disaster – yet he was able to see beyond the mayhem to a time of restoration. And with that vision of a positive future he was able to say to the people – ‘ There is hope for your future says the Lord’. (Jeremiah 31:17). But he also says of the people, looking forward to a time of future restoration – ‘They will come weeping and seeking the Lord their God’. That is what we call repentance. True repentance and hope are brothers! Our problem is, so often, we have put our hope in other things – perhaps institutions, better governance, prosperity, our own ingenuity, fame, power, relationships or a thousand other things – while God longs for us to place our hope and trust in him alone.
The Psalms of the Bible, which, very often, record the real life pain, depression and sense of hope, and at times hopelessness, of their authors, speak overwhelmingly of hope in a positive way.
Here are but a few examples –
Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.
We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield.
Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.
Indeed I believe it is in the middle of our depression, struggles, loneliness, loss and pain, when everything in which we had trusted fails – God offers us his hand of hope. The question is – do we fall in to despair – or do we raise our troubled hands to the One who, ultimately and only, can give us a future and a hope. Again through the ‘Weeping Prophet’ God was able to say exactly this even in the face very uncertain times –
I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
‘Ah’ you might say – ‘that is all well and good for the people of Bible days – but what of today? Well, a few days ago I spoke with an old friend who lives in a remote part of the Hebrides. He lives alone, is unwell and sees very few people. For a man who was once very involved in the spiritual life of his community and was often sought out by others both at home and abroad, life for him is far from easy. Add to that all the current restrictions under which he lives and you may have thought of him as the perfect candidate for self pity and depression. But that is far from the case.
As we chatted about how he was able to cope in such circumstances he said this to me. ‘When I first went forward (in his culture this meant his first communion and publicly declaring himself as a follower of Jesus) the preacher spoke on Zephaniah 3:17 – ‘With his love, he will calm all your fears’ – I never forget that’.
After I put the phone down I picked up my Bible and turned to the passage my friend had quoted. As I read it I thought – ‘What better antidote to fear, to loneliness, to despair – what better reason to live in hope – than in the sure knowledge and experience of the truth of what the Prophet wrote here –
For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty saviour. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
I place my hope in this reality – and so can you! Where else can we go?