I will never forget the moment when hope died in me. Over and over the cadre in the Army school I previously attended would yell, “Hope is not a course of action.” Within this frame of mind, I began to believe that hope was nothing more than a fancy pipe-dream that placed my trust in something outside of my control. Where hope was once the illusion that if I could place my hope on a night off from patrolling the desert looking for enemies, life would be good. If I could not eat an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) and get an actual meal, things would be better. And then it happened. In the middle of a infiltration in the middle of the night, where every single plan was failing to come to fruition, hope died inside of me. I came to really believe that hope was not a course of action. If my team was going to succeed in effectively accomplishing our mission, it was in our hands, not some illusion of hope.
Years late when the Lord Jesus Christ called me to himself, there was an inescapable pattern of hope in his authoritative Word. In fact, hope seemed to be one of the primary attributes of the believer (Hebrews 11). The more and more I wrestled with this idea of hope, I was brought back to the crossroads of competing philosophies of hope versus no hope. Even harder to grasp was embracing hope in the midst of suffering. Deep down, if we are honest, suffering has a way of igniting in us a way to put in any and all effort possible to escape the pain of suffering.
The problem with this view of working our way out of suffering is that it is a conscious effort to cut off the road of hope that God often intends to use to reveal more of himself and conform us more and more into the image of his Son (Romans 12:1-2). In his grace, God is jealous for us and will wage war against our efforts when they get in the way of his Sovereign purposes.
HOPE IN LAMENTATIONS
Recently I have been spending some time studying Lamentations. This vivid book about the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar has been a means to God giving birth and growing the seeds of hope in my life. In fact, the Gospel Project video on Lamentations says, “God’s judgement is the seedbed of hope.” In this eyewitness testimony of lament, the prophets, priests, and kings have become nothing (2:9-10), the glory of the Temple lay in ruins (2:7-8), and everything else that the people of God could attempt to white-knuckle onto for hope has been removed. The daunting reality is that God’s people cannot escape this judgment by their own power and everywhere they look, there is nothing that can help them escape this suffering.
BUT GOD. Throughout the book of Lamentations, you see a glimmer of hope properly placed on their covenant God. All hope is properly diverted towards God and God alone. We see the plead for God to look upon them several times (1:11, 20; 2:20; 5:1). Empty handed, weak, and broken-hearted, God’s people cry out for God to look and see their plight. This is exercising hope as the course of action God intends from his people. It is a hope that places all trust and dependance upon God himself for rescue and joy.
CHRIST OUR HOPE
The good news is that we are not the first to wrestle with suffering and the function of hope. After defining faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” in Hebrews 11:1, we get a picture of our hope and the joy that follows suffering in the person and work of Christ. In Hebrews 12:2 we hear about Jesus as the Suffering Servant who endured the cross for his people. But we also get a glimpse of the joyful hope that resided in his soul on the cross. The author of Hebrews writes, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” The Lord Jesus Christ saw hope as a joyful course of action, firmly believing that his Father would raise him from the suffering of the cross to eternal bliss. Likewise, in our suffering we are to be a people that fix our eyes on Jesus (Col. 3:1-4) and joyfully put our hope in him as the promise-maker and promise-keeper whom we will one day see face-to-face.
Wes Van Fleet is the Pastor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at Kaleo Church. He is married to Jenn and has two little girls, Olivia and Hadley.