HOPE THAT DOES NOT DISAPPOINT
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13."
Over the last five weeks, I have tried to take us on a journey through the darkness of grief and disappointment, the challenge of dealing with disappointment in prayer when God says 'NO', and the gift of lament, a language of prayer of the heartbroken.
I want to conclude, in this last blog, by talking about hope. The word ‘hope’, as used in Romans 15:13, is translated from the Greek word “Elpis”. This Greek term does not mean “wishful thinking”; it denotes “confident expectation” or “anticipation”.
When we are in the middle of a spiritual crisis or disappointment and grief, a natural reaction is to lose hope. Over the last few months, I have found it impossible to engage in wishful thinking about the future, let alone confident expectation or anticipation. Painful disappointment has severely shaken my confidence, and it seems "safer" to live a life devoid of anticipation or confident expectation.
Hope and disappointment are strange bedfellows. Hope produces joy and joy is in short supply during times of grief. Yet Paul tells us, in Romans 5:1, that through Jesus, we rejoice in the hope of the Glory of God. He also teaches us that we share in God's glory through our tribulations because those tribulations produce hope that does not disappoint (vs 3-5).
It appears counter-intuitive to say that tribulations produce hope that does not disappoint; trials themselves are very disappointing. Surely the Bible is not calling us to pretend that hardships make us feel hopeful and joyful? Does God expect us to "grin and bear it" or, worse, mask our real feelings with plastic smiles and loud Alleluias? As I suggested last week, God allows and even welcomes our lament, the language of prayer of the grieving. Lament is how we express our pain to God, but it is also a prayer of hope despite our circumstances.
How are we meant to remain hopeful when our circumstances often make us feel anything but? Hope is very much a necessary ingredient of prayers of faith. If we do not have hope, we cannot pray the prayers of faith that avail much. However, we will often not get exactly what we prayed for, and we will feel disappointed. So, what is this hope that does not disappoint?
Hope that does not disappoint is hope in Christ, not hope in a change of circumstances, which we have no control over and are not guaranteed. When we live in hope, that is, in confident expectation or anticipation, our hope is not that things will turn out as we desire, but that in all circumstances, we will witness God's glory and share in that glory (Romans 5:1-5).
Hope means that when death comes, instead of healing, we can still confidently expect the resurrection morning when the dead in Christ shall rise. Hope means that when God does not come as a healer, we can still confidently anticipate that He will come as a comforter. Hope means that when the answer to our prayer is disappointing, we confidently expect that God will redeem that disappointing circumstance, either in this life or the next, to the glory of His name. Our hope does not disappoint because it is not anchored in changing circumstances. Our “hope is rather anchored in the person who holds the future, and by His word and power, upholds and guarantees it” (Dr Tanya Walker).
As we stand at the edge of 2020, looking forward to 2021, we have no assurances that next year will bring better circumstances than those we have all endured this year. There is no assurance that we will go back to “normal life”. Can we still have hope? Absolutely. Our hope is anchored in a God who promises that He does not change. We can confidently expect that He is Emmanuel, God with us, regardless of our tribulations.
I hoped that I would give birth to a healthy living baby at the end of November or the beginning of December. I anticipated that our home would be filled with the sweet scent and soft cries of a new baby at this time. Instead, my little boy, Jonathan, was born silent, sleeping, and is lying in the ground in a little corner of Wolvercote Cemetery, next to other babies also born sleeping. It is challenging to look forward into the future with hope. It has been so hard to have hope that joy will come to us again.
However, I thank God that as our minds turn towards the first Advent, I am reminded to anchor my hope on the birth of another baby, a little boy born 2000 years ago to a virgin mother. Because of that little babe, I can live in confident expectation and anticipation of a time, in the sweet by and by, when God will redeem what I lost. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Although my son's loss is so very disappointing, the birth of Jesus gives me hope that brings joy in sorrow; hope that does not disappoint.
I pray that, no matter what grief, loss or heart-breaking disappointment you have or will experience, you will know this hope that does not disappoint. May hope fill your heart because of that baby boy who is Emmanuel, God with us.