Today I’m asking the question, what do you do
When Hope seems Dead?
Many people think of hope as a poor, precarious thing, an illusion, a vanity, a disease of the mind. The cynic has said, “He, who lives on hope, will die starving.” But hope is not thought of like this, in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul makes Faith, Hope, and Love the cardinal virtues of Christendom. “And now abideth faith, hope, and love.” 1 Cor 13. Paul speaks also in Romans 15 of “the patience of hope” and in Romans 5
of the “hope that maketh not ashamed.” All through the New Testament, hope is spoken of in the same high way. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews bursts out into that daring paradox, “A hope both sure and steadfast.”
Now, how did this sharp contrast arise? Is it an illusion or a steadfast reality, a dream or a fact, a disease of the mind or a cardinal virtue? Hope cannot be both. Is the world right, or is the New Testament right? Is it a bit of folly or is it a precious object beyond price? What is the solution of the dilemma?
The answer is not difficult for they are talking of different things. I suggest to you today that there is a higher and a lower hope. There is a genuine quality and a counterfeit. There is the real article and a substitute. There is a gold and there is a gilt.
Let us look at each of them in turn.
I think you will recognize the lower hope more easily if I employ its more usual, commonly called name – “optimism.” Optimism is much praised. People love to boast that they are optimists, and they speak as though this quality conferred distinction on them.
Sir Thomas Lipton the American Millionaire who spent his life winning boat races – said: “I am the world’s greatest optimist. I am proud of the distinction. There is something buoyant and healthy in being an optimist. It is because of my optimism that I have gone through life sailing. I am always in good humour and good fettle. Doctor Optimism is the finest chap in any city or country. Just try a course of his treatment.
It will work wonders, and this doctor charges no fees“.
But tragically, for all of his optimism, at the end of his life Lipton also said: “I’d give up every sailing trophy in my collection for the one I haven’t got—that is a hope of Heaven and eternal life!” Optimism is only a counterfeit hope!
Nor need we deny the value of optimism. It is not full cream, but there is something to be said for skimmed milk. If the choice were pressed on us, most of us would prefer to live with an optimist than with a pessimist. Allow me to set it out in this way: “The pessimist says, ‘It will rain this afternoon.’ The optimist says, ‘There’s a break in the clouds,’ and he puts on his Macintosh and goes out. The pessimist says, ‘there no one here to chat to” The optimist says, ‘I’ll take the dog for a walk’. The pessimist says, ‘The team is bound to lose this match’ The optimist says, ‘The outlook is bleak, but we’re well able to win.'”
Of course optimism is better than pessimism. Doctors know that. Professor Langdon Brown, of Cambridge University, addressing the medical students of Westminster Hospital some time ago, sought to remind them that there are some good tonics not easily examined by biochemical analysis, and he concluded his striking address by saying that the best tonic of all …
Yes, all this concerns the lower hope, and, when everything has been said in its favour, it is nevertheless a poor counterfeit of the real thing. It flourishes most where there is no depth of earth, and it soon withers away. Sadly it has no necessary connection with God, His word, or His Christ?
If every doctor knows that optimism is, as Professor Langdon Brown says, a good tonic to the body, every doctor knows also that optimist is a constant companion to consumption, and similar ailments. The wasting disease may be making its last rapid moves to a tragic end, but normally the patient seems blissfully unaware of it. Keen as the people in hospitals normally and naturally are to get home, their cheerfulness is proverbial. I have been visiting such patients in all parts of the country for years and have been impressed again
and again by the hopefulness which they display. But many of them are sick unto death and optimism alone cannot save them.
Nor is it less pathetic when the optimism is displayed by the relatives. “It is all right,” said a cheerful man to his Pastor when he had been visiting his wife who was gravely ill. “She is bound to get better. I am an optimist, you know. I always look on the bright side” – But they buried his wife before the week was out.
Don’t misunderstand me, of course we appreciate optimism, and willingly admit its useful service to the community, but it has been inappropriately praised, and fully explains the world’s cynicism concerning hope. Boisterous confidence which has no solid foundation looks pitifully ludicrous when crushing disappointment comes, and deepens the contempt in which it is widely held by the disillusioned. Looking at the bright side of things may seem both bold and brave, but it involves also (as it often does) a foolish neglect of facts which point the other way, it only adds to the bitterness of ultimate failure. If a business man will only persist in looking on the bright side of his accounts, and not look at his losses, he may end up bankrupt!
But how different is all this from New Testament hope!
(and who of us could deny that we need hope in these times)
As Christians, we may go forward into this dark period in our nation’s life, not inflated with the foolish optimism which seems to give buoyancy to those who do not know Christ, but with a quiet and unquenchable hope drawn from the deep resources of our unwavering faith and confidence in God.
Our Hope is based, first, on:
THE INDESTRUCTIBILITY OF TRUTH. Some people would have us believe that truth is a fragile thing, the first casualty in any crisis. None would deny that we live in an age when scant respect has been paid to it, and propaganda put forward as something “rather better.” Indeed, there have been times (sadly on the increase) when words have almost ceased to have meaning. In recent times, Aggression has masqueraded as “protection.” Wanton and wicked invasion has been described as though it were a pitying and sacrificial act of charity. Appeasement has been called “weakness,” and Government Deception is spoken of as “in the peoples best interest” Without doubt, We are living in the age of Deception, Satan is the deceiver of the Nations. But he will not show up dressed in a red tunic with fiery horns and a sharp pitchfork, no he will show up as a well spoken, well dressed world leader or diplomat and will sound very convincing, but what he has to say will be lies, lies and more lies. Mark my words.
But as believers we know that Truth is mighty. It does not achieve its victories by putting the right spin on things, or by any quick fixes. The Truth may even be nailed to a cross and taken down, a poor bleeding body, to be hidden in a sepulchre, sealed with a great stone. But Truth rises again! The life-principle in it cannot be killed. Somehow, it partakes of the very life of God and, therefore, of God’s eternity. Ultimately, its triumph is sure. Make no mistake that TRUTH WILL OUT and TRUTH WILL WIN in the end.
In a London hospital, some years ago, a small quantity of radium was lost. Though its bulk was quite inconsiderable, it was valued at about 2½ thousand pounds, and an immediate and thorough search was made for it. By some means it was thought possible that it had been swept into a wastepaper basket, and taken to the incinerator to be burned. So the dust and clinkers of the refuse plant were sieved and examined. And there indeed was the radium! – unharmed and unimpaired for all the fiery journey it had made: still at the service of the doctors in their great ministry of assisting healing.
This is not dissimilar with truth. It passes through the fires of fierce distortion, and seems at times to be utterly lost, but the flames cannot permanently harm it, and it returns to its remedial work again. Albert Schweitzer, like most thoughtful men, disliked to be asked whether he was an optimist or a pessimist, finding the question essentially shallow. He admitted that only at quite rare moments had he felt really glad to be alive; that he is burdened with a sense of the world’s suffering and believes that, by the renunciation of thinking, mankind is delivering itself into spiritual and material misery.
One thing, he said, kept hope alive in him: his belief in truth. He says:
“One belief in my childhood I have preserved with the certainty that I can never lose it – belief in truth. I am confident that the spirit generated by truth is stronger than the force of any circumstances … Therefore, I do not believe that mankind will have to tread the road to ruin right to the end.”
This, then, is the first ground of our hope – the indestructibility of truth. In all of our anxiety these days, lest we become nationally self-righteous, let none of us hesitate to offer the prayer, “Lord, help us to defend the Truth.”
The second basis of our confident hope is this:
GOD IS ON THE THRONE. Many people, most of whom live their normal lives in neglect of God, complain in times of national stress and suffering that God never seems to do anything. They set out the enormities of our enemies faults, and usually entirely ignore our own national sins, and then curiously inquire why God does not intervene?
Their problem is a very old one. It puzzled the psalmist. It perplexed the prophets. It baffled poor Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. (John 18) When he stood, bloody and ineffectual, in the gleam of the lanterns, and watched them march his betrayed Master away, something came near to bursting in his mighty heart. He knew that it was devilish and hellish – every bit of it. But why did He [Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God] have to suffer it? Surely, the same word that cured the leper, gave sight to the blind, and summoned the dead to life, could blast these evil men for their wickedness – to kingdom come!
Yet Jesus allowed them to lead him away, and, of His own will, bowed His meek head to mortal pain. As Peter stumbled into the darkness of that night I recon that was the question which hammered in his reeling brain: was “Why?” “Why?” “Why?”
Let me say it again, as I have on many occasions, and however elementary it must seem to those of you who deeply think on the things of God: He does not work our way. His purpose finds fitting expression, not in the power to wound, but in the power to woo. His power is not coercion, but constraint. Never does He violate the personality that He has made. With infinite patience, He seeks to win the wayward and the wicked by all the kindest inducements of love, and our seemingly impossible task is this: – to have patience with the patience of God.
When we remember our own stubborn wilfulness and resistance to His pleadings, and for how long was He patient with us through all the years when we were proud and repulsive in sin,
– it should not be too hard for us to have patience with the patience of God. Let us accept this fact however difficult, or even impossible it may be for us to grasp – God does not work our way. The Cross symbolizes both His power and His wisdom. He meets all the massed hatred of wicked men with bleeding love, and in the hour of their triumph His only reply is a prayer, asking that they might be forgiven?
Yet God is still on the throne! He is uncompromising about sin, and only blind ignorance can interpret His restraint as weakness, or indifference to our human worth. The Eternal God will vindicate the unalterable distinctions of right and wrong. The world can only work His way. “Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and fall” but God and His word and His Christ will stand for ever. Out of the chaos of these latter days, and by the bitter agonies that lie ahead for this end-time generation, the will of God will ultimately be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” I say again – nothing beats God and nothing is bigger than God.
In recent Days Iran has aired a documentary film, depicting the purpose at their heart to annihilate Israel and its people – to literally obliterate them from off the face of the earth! (that is their supreme intention – make no mistake) This film shown last month in schools and cinemas depicts the destruction of both Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem and the awful bloodied mutilation of their many inhabitants. They also include a plan and an attack aimed to destroy any American war ships in the Gulf. In addition to this defiance of Moral Right, on the nightly Television News, one of their Cabinet Members, a Parliamentary spokeswomen has openly encouraged Arab men to Rape Jewish women who would risk coming into that Country saying (and I quote) “that there will be no legal or punishable consequences – we need to send these Zionists a message that they are not welcome nor wanted in our Land.”
Do you imagine for one minute that God will not respond to such blatant provocation and aggression? They are poking their dirty finger in the apple of his eye – and they don‘t realize it!
God will never leave Israel, nor forsake the Church – as the scriptures promise. 1 Sam 12:22. The Cross is the pledge of that. In those times of immeasurable horror, when we fear that even God’s patience will be exhausted with our wicked race, and all the windows of heaven closed from within against the scenes of earth, let us return again to Calvary. Here is the only ground of unquenchable hope. He will never forsake the land of His incarnation and sacrificial death. God is on the throne. Truth is indestructible. When the shallow hopes of the world and all its false messiahs are all dead – we can hope on in our God!
Gods word is our Hope and Gods character is our confidence. In the coming days when we may not have any earthly hope, we can be assured of heavenly help, and in that itself – hope cannot die. At this very moment, I have no confident hope in the wisdom and insight of our present world leaders to disentangle us from the web of deception and destruction that is gripping the entire planet. My only hope is in God and in His Sovereignty, which only and obviously gives me peace of mind about it all.
NOW THIS FINAL WORD.
I am not a connoisseur of great art, but from time to time a painting or picture will really speak a clear, strong message to me. Some time ago I came across a picture of an old burned-out mountain shack. All that remained was the chimney… the charred debris of what had been that family’s sole possession. In front of this destroyed home stood an old grandfather-looking man dressed only in his underclothes with a small boy clutching a pair of patched overalls. It was evident that the child was crying. Beneath the picture were the words which the artist felt the old man was speaking to the boy. They were simple words, yet they presented a profound theology and philosophy of life. Those words were, “Hush child, God ain’t dead!”
That vivid picture of that burned-out mountain shack, that old man, the weeping child, and those words “God ain’t dead”
keep returning to my mind. Instead of it being a reminder of the despair of life, it has come to be a reminder of hope! I need reminders that there is hope in this world. In the midst of all of life’s troubles and terrors, I need reminders that all is not lost as long as God is alive and in ultimate control. So my dear friends, if you are lacking hope today remember …“God ain’t dead!”
God Bless you – Amen