At the start of the COVID shutdowns nearly one year ago, I began a quest to redefine and rediscover hope. Hope is something no human can live without, which makes it such a dangerous creature. Put your hope in the wrong thing and you might find yourself devastatingly crushed when that ‘thing’ doesn’t pan out; consumed or enslaved by the anxiety of it’s possibility; or if you’re like me having been the dupe of both ends, it is possible to become cynical, calloused by broken plans and unfulfilled dreams to the point of dreading those fresh stirrings of excitement and snuffing them out (or trying to) as soon as they first tickle the insides of your belly.
After two years of prayer and penny pinching, a year ago January I felt God challenge me to quit my beloved albeit difficult job as a high school teacher and finally move abroad. Yay! My plans were to: resign from teaching (check); get rid of my belongings; fly to Papua New Guinea where I’d been trying to get to for five years and help build a school with friends in Baku Village; fly to Australia to witness the birth of my best friend’s son; take off for a brief stint WOOFing in Germany; backpack to LaBri, Switzerland where I had committed to at least one semester to produce a writing sample for a PhD application; and of course, be in Busia for the beginning of the school year. It would have all worked swimmingly, however, within a month of taking that leap of faith and resigning from my job . . . the world closed.
I can’t stop myself from hoping in things, which is why I learned to dread it. The fallout of all my plans (and subsequent failed attempts to overcome international COVID regulations) left me quite confused as to what God was wanting from me, and quite raw as I watched the ridiculous political shenanigans and embarrassing events unfold in America the following 365 days. I felt trapped, increasingly full of dread and hopeless as I thought about my future.
This surely was the end.
Was I wrong to feel this way? And especially as a Christian? Like any good maters level student of theology, I consulted the internet. Christian blogs were abundant: “Idolatry,” they said, “is anything you put before God,” several intimated you know when you’ve been idolizing something when you can’t live without it—take it away—if you’re crushed, its because you were holding onto it and putting it before your relationship with God. Repent you sinner! The joy of the Lord is our strength! Were they right? It sure sounds lofty, pious, spiritual, safe. And vaguely Buddhist. I consulted the Bible.
Verse after verse told me that our God is the “God of all hope” (Romans 15:13), and that if hope is placed in Him it will not be put to shame (Psalm 25:3). But as this picture of true hope began to take shape in my mind, I still couldn’t understand how to put my hope in God. I understood I ought to, and wanted to from the core of my heart, but what I thought that looked like was different from what is.
I must for the moment reflect on the most hopeless night the world has witnessed, the night God died. From what little we know about Thomas at least, it seems quite clear though Jesus foretold His death and resurrection, what this really meant was not understood. I imagine Thomas’ three days of horror as he reflected on the untimely, gruesome, unjust death of his rabbi and friend. I can imagine three torturous nights as he processed the loss of his special calling—from God—out of a bland life to following this mysterious rabbi who would change the world, who would redeem Israel, who would end all injustice and oppression, who would fulfill the scriptures! And then to be killed, a victim of injustice. The cross was the crushing defeat of Israel’s hope, the literal destruction of Thomas’ future.
Surely this was the end.
But it wasn’t. “Behold, I am doing a new thing, it now springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). Hope and trust are woven together in faith. Whatever darkness worked in Thomas those three nights was undone in the morning resurrection of Jesus. The cross of Jesus Christ is hope. The cross is a promise against all evil, all injustice, all revenge and unforgiveness, all loneliness and betrayal, all oppression, all pain and suffering, all catastrophe, all horror—God has gone to that cross and defeated it! Faith that He rose again in a life stronger than death, bearing the scars of crucifixion as a witness to the very power of God to complete the good work He has promised: this is what it means to hope in God. Touch those scars you Thomas’s! Touch the whole pierced through the heart of the living God for you. It is this hope in the truth of God—that despite how dark the present seems, how desolate the future, God can and will make a good thing happen—which rebels victoriously against all evil.
It has taken a year, but I think I might be starting to finally understand. Trying to control hope in attempt of self-preservation or avoiding disappointment is not the aim of life, nor is it truly hoping in God. Hoping in God is not at the expense of lesser hopes but in the audacity of these lesser hopes—these which say “My God is able: There is no impossible. He is my hope.” I hope for sunshine tomorrow, I hope to have children one day (which at this stage in life feels utterly impossible), I hope that I will be able to travel to Busia in July and hold Scovia’s hand while walking red dirt roads to Howard Christian (which is currently impossible), I hope against hope for a spiritual revolution in my country (you get the point).
Living is the most dangerous thing that can be done, it has a 100% death rate after all. We all know this. I give my life into the hands of the living God, and I will live boldly and hope boldly in the face of impossibility. When those hopes are dashed, I will not feel guilt for sadness, but grieve in expectation that, like scars of the resurrected body of Christ, my tears dried to my cheeks will bear witness that God has the power to defeat every despair by His good works. I will not fear being crushed or disappointed when these hopes are frustrated for in that place of anxiety, I will trust that as for Thomas so to it will be for me— Even in the darkest night, the night of the cross, God works all things to good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). This is what He does.
In closing, I will remember another hopeless night. Israel (God’s chosen people) had left Him, choosing to eschew the teachings of the Lord to practice pagan religions and even infant sacrifice. Political corruption was rampant. The prophets cried for the people to return to God lest they be destroyed, and the people scoffed—the prophets had been saying the Lord would bring judgement for years after all and nothing had happened, so why believe it now? But then in a flash, Israel was savagely destroyed by the Assyrian and then Babylonian invasions. Though he had been faithful to God, Jeremiah experienced that judgement along with his people. In reflection of the destruction of Jerusalem he writes:
“My soul has been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is. Then I thought: My future is lost, as well as my hope from the Lord . . . Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore, I will put my hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.” (Lamentations 3:17-25)
By Haley Winkelman