Life can be disappointing. Sometimes these disappointments are over small and inconsequential things, and we let them brush by us without causing great disruption. On other occasions, however, these disappointments stay with us. Disappointments caused by loss, grief and the unfulfilled desires of the heart.
Despite this reality, we are surprisingly resilient. We get back up again. And again. And again. And it is our capacity for hope that compels this resilience. Despite the frequent disappointments of everyday life, the human spirit has a remarkable ability to be pushed forward by hope. Yet there can come a time when this resilience is worn down. We come to know better than to hope. It becomes easier instead to cultivate cynicism. Cynicism is far less emotionally taxing, allowing you to stay aloof and avoid the risk that comes with hope. Cynicism and the avoidance of hope is a wonderful self-protection mechanism. Avoid hope and expectation and then you’ll never be disappointed!
It’s a brilliant strategy.
It can seem easier to live primed and ready for disappointment. To suck as much hope out of the air as you can and ‘hope’ to avoid the feeling of hopelessness that comes with hopes unmet. And yet, ironically, the avoidance of hope in order to avoid feeling hopeless ends up self-defeating. In fact, it’s hope that keeps us alive. And going. It is hope that helps us to keep staring in the face of tragedy and suffering and say, “it’s going to get better than this”.
And in the Christian tradition, there is something to ground this hope in. Hope is not some kind of vague optimism or collection of positive clichés. This is not about some naïve conviction that everything will always work out fine. Instead, the writer of Hebrews talks about hope as an ‘anchor for the soul’. Hope that is firm and sure. Christian hope is an anchor that is grounded in the story of Jesus, and it is Jesus who tells us, once and for all, that God is good. And that if God is good, then God can be trusted.
There is this ancient story told about the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel. He had been taken into captivity in Babylon when Jerusalem had been destroyed and the nation of Israel had gone into exile. And he speaks of this vision where he is put by God into a valley of dry bones. These bones representing his people…
And God asks him to prophesy to the bones, that they would be filled with the breath of life. And to prophesy to the breath (Spirit!), that they would fill the bones with life. And he does.
And they do.
And while Ezekiel was speaking to the nation of Israel who needed hope after their desolation…it also pointed forward toward Jesus. Jesus who embodies the idea that even death does not have the final word. Even death is no match for hope in God.
Jürgenn Moltmann: “When all hopes have died, there comes the wave of the future like a spiritof resurrection into the dead bones, creating hope against hope.”
Our hope is grounded in the beating heart of the earth that says ‘there’s more going on here’ and that it is good. It is this hope that is grounded and made known in the love of God, demonstrated in Jesus Christ.
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In deep nights I dig for you like treasure
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet…
My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.
Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience
What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly, like a spring rain?
from Rilke’s ‘Book of Hours’