Monday, January 14, 2019 - Updated: 1:57 pm
“For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease.” — Job 14:7
If there is hope that a tree, cut down for timber or thinned for fire safety, can sprout again and send out fresh green shoots, then there must be hope for us.
Let’s face it: we are like these trees — cut down by grief, by betrayed trust, by dashed expectations.
At times we feel so hopeless that we wonder if the hope we once had is lost forever. Will it ever spring eternal again?
The apostle Paul, whose teaching came under vicious attack more times that he could count, witnesses what it means to maintain hope despite the temptation to hopelessness. The grace to persevere in his mission does not come from him but from God. For this reason he declares: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed …” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Hope does not die in the apostle’s heart because he knows that his destiny is to rise up and be in the presence of the Lord forever. He puts his hope not in passing expressions of power, pleasure or possession but in “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him …” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Jesus never lost hope, not when he underwent the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross. Why is it then that we struggle against the demon of despair more often than we might like to admit?
The D’s of depreciation haunt us: discouragement, depression, disgust and the thought of death. It is hard when we feel hopeless not to become irritable, numb to any sign of empathy, chilled to the bone by the dread of failure.
Only slowly may we see signs of renewed hope: in those first blooms of spring after a harsh winter; in the face of an innocent child; in the gentle passing into the night of a parent we loved. Sorrow has run its course. We feel more patient with the passing of time. We renew our trust in the providence of God.
In these and many other ways — if we remain vigilant — we can witness the rebirth of hope. With it comes a renewed awareness that God will never abandon us. We are not meant by him to be orphaned. How hopeful it makes us feel to know that he will be with us always.
Hope counters uncertainty and fear. It keeps us from becoming complacent. It represents for believers an act of supreme confidence in Christ, the “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
We do not hope in the possible, which may be under human control, but in the impossible, which falls under the providential plan of God.
Hope encourages us to dream our dreams while reminding us realistically that only with God’s help can we put lasting foundations under them.
With this conversion to hope comes an increase of love, along with the conviction of faith that the light shining in the darkness will not be overcome, no matter how severe attacks of hopelessness may be.
For American poet Emily Dickinson, hope “is a thing with feathers.” It cannot be drowned by cloud bursts of despair because it “perches in the soul.” God himself placed this virtue in our deepest interiority and, therefore, with the poet we can say that it “never stops at all.” It does spring eternal, however many forces tend to erode it over time.
Such is the hope that saves us from being weighed down by momentary tribulations. Hope brought to full bloom by our beloved Lord never perishes, spoils or fades.
The midnight moments of loss are as nothing compared to the dawn of redemption.
The choice is ours: to see life as ultimately meaningless or to view all that we are and do as ultimately meaningful and never, ever lose hope. And so we pray:
Lord, when I feel low in spirit, whisper a word of hope that generates certitude in my uncertain heart. Open portals of hope that encourage me to view life through a brighter lens. Let hope be the doorway I pass through to a transformed life that reveals the value of redemptive suffering. Teach me to let go of my locked-in agendas and turn to you. Empty my memory of past hurts and disappointments. Cleanse my imagination of plans and expectations for which there is no guarantee. Break the bonds of despair that hold me captive. Transform the dying embers of hopelessness into the blazing fires of fully hopeful living.
Muto is dean and executive director of the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood. Visit www.epiphanyassociation.org.