Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pondering the How of Hope {from the archives}

I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.
Psalm 130:5,7-8, NASB

Your comments  on "Hope Waits" have resonated in my mind all week. I hear you, friends. I hear your wondering how not to let hope slip when things start to go sideways; I hear the tug of the "groaning in the longing"; I hear the confession of deep disappointment scabbing over into distrust of the One who allowed it, and His "tenderly tend[ing] my heart" all the while.

I hear, and I think I understand, having felt and done the same myself.

And then there is the commenter mulling over whether Calvin's faith-then-hope sequence is all there is to the case, whether "a really crucial feature of hope is that it can come *before* faith, and be as it were the seed from which faith grows."

Judging by the dubious standard of subjective personal experience, certainly there seem to have been times for me when hopeful feelings seemed to buoy faith and make it easier to believe what God has revealed to be true as well as times when I needed to turn my back on feelings and hold fast in trust to the truths I knew, waiting for the feelings to follow suit.

Judging by the standard of Calvin's words from the earlier post, there also seems to be room for regarding hope as a "seed from which faith grows," or at least grows stronger:

...faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith….
hope strengthens faith, that it may not waver in God’s promises or begin to doubt concerning their truth.
From Calvin's words (for which I unfortunately do not have the larger context), it seems to be a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, or in this case the seed or the plant? Each one (or the potential), seed and plant, is present in the other at any given moment, and depending on where one is in the life cycle of the organism the seed may seem to come first or to follow.

Always, though, I want to hold subjective experience and even the best human words up to the straight edge of Scripture. After more meditation than systematic study so far, it seems to me that hope and faith or hope and believ* occur together a fair number of times in the English Bible. Both expect God to be true to His character and His promises, though hope connotes more of a waiting and looking to and faith a relying on. Both occur in noun and verb forms and as commands.

They seem wrapped up so tightly together that I wonder if they are as fraternal twins, Jacob and Esau striving together in the womb, a hand of one emerging, a heel of another, then a head crowns and a body follows, another head, another body, and only the mother and the midwife know for certain who entered the world first.

But how does that work? If I'm the one who has lost hope, as I have been plenty of times, what do I do?

If I have someone to pray for me, I ask them.
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NASB).
If not, I take it on faith that Jesus and the Spirit are interceding for me in the best way. And they are, even if the child of God has no faith to believe it.

Recognizing that we are whole persons and our bodily health and spiritual-emotional health are interwoven, I ask whether there is some remediable physical cause for hopeless feelings: illness, sleep deprivation, inactivity or overactivity, feeding my body the wrong fuel,...

And most importantly, I look to Scripture to find my way.

If there is something to lament, if I am Job on the ash heap, then by all means I am free under grace to lament, to pour out my heart to God. It's all right to grieve. There's nothing wrong with being sad about a loss, whether loss of life or dreams, love or livelihood or health...

But what if I have grieved, if I have lamented, if I want to find my way back to hope but don't know where to look for it? If I am in hopelessness and despair, I know no better example than Jeremiah:
He [Yahweh] has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the LORD.”
 
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me. (Lamentations 3:15-20, NASB).
What does he do when in such a hopeless, broken state? He digs channels of trust for hope to flow. He searches the archives of his recollection for some truth about God to undergird him and raise him up:
This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hopeThe LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,"Therefore I have hope in Him.”  (Lamentations 3:21-24, NASB).
Regardless of how hopeless I feel or how disastrous things look, God is still love, His compassions never fail, His faithfulness is great, and He is my portion. Hope is a gift to the believer because of the resurrection of Christ, but like love it is also a choice, an action we can take. To hope means, in Scripture, to look, to wait, to expect. Not necessarily to feel optimistic, though that also is a grace when it comes.

By no means do I intend to make light of the deep suffering of lost hope. By no means. I am neither a counselor nor a theologian trained to search these things out in "the right way." Maybe I am a Job's counselor adding platitudes to the suffering. If so, I ask your forgiveness and invite you to help me do better. My intention and prayer here is not to overload bowed backs but to seek after truth alongside you and record for myself as much as for you what has helped me persevere in the dry times.

When there's nothing else to be done, when the problem is not fixable, hope by its very nature waits. Hope waits for the fulfillment of God's promises to appear on the horizon. Hope waits for Him to prove true to His character. Hope waits, "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13, NASB). When I lack the feeling of hope, I can look to the Person who is my hope.

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