Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pondering the How of Hope

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 last Wednesday's post, there also seems to be room for regarding hope as a "seed from which faith grows," or at least grows stronger: 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,...

Then 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 His 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.

Q: What about you? Where have you found help when hope seemed gone?

Walking with the Savior and Ann and the community at


  1. For whatever reason, I find that hope goes quickly out the door for me. I want that to change; hopefully (no pun intended) it will now that I've learned to recognize it.

    Grace always returns hope to me when I calm down to remember who he is and what his promises are. But that gap in between still troubles me...

    I am going to read "What Women Fear" with (in)courage. My plan is for my daughter and I to read it together; don't know how that will go. I have far more fears than she does, and she may not need to be in such close contact with mine. ha.

    Praying you have a blessed week, friend!

  2. "Hope by its very nature waits." You say it all so well here. There is such truth in the waiting connection to hope. God is faithful. Always. I do cling to Jesus when in need of hope. His name alone helps in the waiting.
    Such a beautiful and encouraging post.

  3. I find hope in remembering: His ways are not our ways. He sees differently than we see. His time is not our time.

  4. I think you are right in seeing this intertwining of hope and faith, sometimes one preceding the other, sometimes one following the other. My verse for 2011 has been Hebrews 11:1--now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. For me, during these last years of deep hardship, I lost my faith. But there was still hope, that expectant waiting that you are referring to, somehow believing that God would eventually be able to restore me and re-plant the seeds of faith in my heart. I'm wondering now if I really didn't lose my faith at all. Maybe this "expectant hope" is actually faith. Because there is a kind of hope that's just wishful thinking, yearning for something to be. But this hope that waits on His promises, that expects God to show up? Isn't that really faith after all? I don't know. Just musing right along with you at this mystery.

    In answer to your question, I found courage in hopeless years when the people closest to me declared that they'd hold onto hope for me until I could hold onto it for myself. It took off the guilt and the fear of not having hope and yet helped me to believe that somehow there really could be hope if these people who loved me could see it and hold it even here in my darkness. In this most recent struggle, I had seen God work in my life in all the darkness that had come before and I couldn't help but "wait expectantly" for Him to do what He'd always done before, even when this time seemed so much worse. Recounting His faithfulness from the past seems to breath hope and perseverance into the present struggles.

    Okay, enough with my long-winded comment!

  5. I've prayed scriptures from Psalms in those times. Here's one of my favorites:
    "My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from him."
    Psalm 62:5
    It reminds me not to put my hope in waiting for circumstances to change, or in people, or in other things, but to wait for Him.
    Lovely post!

  6. i know people who think that bloggers are people who love the sound of their own voice, and want it to be broadcast far and wide as possible. rather than arguing with such people that it's not (always) that way, i should just direct them to your blog: it is so visibly "upside down" with respect to the usual blogger stereotype. even when you are going through something emotionally or physically hard, or trying to think your way through something intellectually intricate, your posts always reach out in love towards (familiar and unfamiliar) readers, as well as towards God. In this post, for example, it's so evident that you want those who've lost hope to find it again, that i can't imagine how someone would think you were a Job's comforter, rather than a true one. i think it's the "outreaching" quality of your posts (and your replies to comments) that explains why people feel able and even encouraged to comment at length: you make readers feel *at home* in your blog.

    i agree with you--and with Courtney--about the intimate and intertwined nature of hope and faith in Scripture. I too had been thinking of the passage from Hebrews 11: 1 Courtney cited, tho' the translation I had in mind (closer to the Latin; dunno about the Greek) says that faith is *the substance* of things hoped for, making the hope/faith connection seem even more intimate than in Courtney's translation.

    i found your suggestions about what to do when hopeless illuminating. yes, sometimes there are things we can do (i was particularly struck by the idea of asking others to pray for us), and sometimes there aren't, but ultimately hope comes from without--and above. Mercifully, it comes from above, even when we haven't been especially good at doing those things we could do to find it...

    thanks so much again for the post!

  7. Courtney--

    i'm biased, since my comments are *never* short and sweet, but i didn't think your comment was one word too long: i loved your description of the people closest to you "holding on to hope for me until I could hold onto it for myself"!

  8. The only source is Him. When all seems lost, when it feels the sky is falling, when the walls are poised to collapse, I cry out to Him in the anguish of my heart. I simply weep before Him, laying it all at His feet, for there is nothing else to do. Nothing. And He ALWAYS picks me up and speaks His Peace to my heart. And even in that place where I have no hope, I have Him. And that is always enough. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is Truth that He has shown me over and over and over again.

  9. @Courtney Not long-winded at all! I loved reading your thoughts, and I'm glad to get to know you this way in addition to your own blog.

    That's a good point about others hoping on your behalf. I had not thought about that relieving guilt and fear, but that is certainly a benefit. It has interested me that in the healing of the paralytic let down through the roof in the Synoptics (Luke 5, Mark 2, and Matthew 9, I think; from this morning's portion for me) Jesus saw the friends' faith and healed the sufferer. That strikes me as similar to your experience, but perhaps not.

    (Who's long-winded now? See, we're fine with that here.)

    God grant you hope, friend.

  10. @chris Yes, hope does come from without and above, and God's mercy is not contingent on our "getting it right."

    Thank you for your kind comments about upside-down blogging. The points you make are answers to prayer, but in truth every time I pray the blogger's prayer Ann wrote, half my time ends up as confession of hypocrisy. It's more of a goal and a direction than a reality, but I think it's the right direction to aim.

    On Hebrews 11:1, the Greek word is hupostasis and could mean substance, essence, but also includes assurance, so both translations seem valid. The semantic range of the Greek term doesn't have an exact English match (no big surprise).

    You're welcome! Grace and peace to you in Christ, friend.


Thank you for sharing your day with me! Your presence here is a gift. *You* are a gift. Right now I am unable to reply to every comment, but please know I read and pray for each and every commenter. Grace and peace to you in Christ.