Teachers have the hardest jobs in the world. They are responsible for crushing or releasing the dreams of every child’s parents, who knew from the moment of conception that their newborn was perfect in every way. Watch a caring parent and good teacher having a conversation and you will observe the careful game where the parent seeks out the positives while the teacher tries to hide the negatives. This is not done to lie or deceive, merely to ensure that hope is never lost. Children deserve the best possible future, and one misplaced negative comment, equally misconstrued by a parent, will be remembered well into adulthood. One comment can affect an eternity.
It is possible to place hope in things that we can change; getting fitter, learning to juggle, running a marathon. Targets are set, challenges accepted, and we take control of our destiny by choosing how much we eat, rehearse or train. This type of hope is totally controlled by our own determination. It is hope in ourselves that we can become better.
It is also possible to place hope in things we cannot change; the weather, an ill person being healed, a job interview. We may pretend to have some level of control, by doing a rain dance, following doctors advice or wearing a lucky tie, but at the end of the day we have no control. This hope is often a hope that is not fulfilled. Too many people end up with depression because they put their hope in things beyond their control; circumstances that cannot be changed. When a false hope is dashed, it can lead to that sinking feeling – remember that it was hope in an unsinkable ship that killed so many on the Titanic. This type of hope is addictive but false.
And yet humanity continues to hope, to seek control over the uncontrollable, to define the unacceptable and become master over it. And it’s sees hope broken and defiled.
Hope, on the overhand, is different. True Hope, reliable Hope has to be placed in something that has complete control. For Hope to be maintained, it cannot fail. This is not a trust in ourself – we make mistakes, get lazy or find ourselves distracted too easily – and it is not a trust in the uncontrollable. This is a trust in something bigger that does not let us down.
I believe that Hope can be found in the Christian God, but there are those who would try and trick us into a level of expectation in this God that is beyond what is promised. As a result we end up back with false hope where Hope once was.
For example, there is a song with a single line that I cannot sing because I believe it creates false hope where there should be real Hope. The lyrics state ‘You make all things work together for my good.’ It is supposed to come from a verse in Romans which apparently says something similar. I cannot and will not sing this falsity. A god that makes all things work together for an individual’s good would have his work cut out; the prayer to combat loneliness from one hopeful follower would conflict with the request for space from another.
I prefer to sing something else: ‘You make all things work together for our good.’ The change from ‘my’ to ‘our’ may seem insignificant to most, but to the husband sacrificially caring for his ill wife it means everything. To the parent of a disabled child who finds their life forever changed, it means everything. To the widow who doesn’t understand the loss, it means everything. For these people, hope that circumstances can change may be false. It is not for ‘their’ good that these things have happened, but they can make another persons life better by sacrificing theirs. Things have been worked together for a greater good than the selfish individual. That doesn’t make it any easier, but does ensure that our Hope is not misplaced.
That said, I do believe that God also engages with us on an individual level and can do things specifically for our own good, but when we expect this we essentially raise ourselves higher than our fellow humans. True Hope leads to positive actions, not selfish intent.
False hope can break us. True Hope can restore us. Jesus provided true Hope when He both died and defeated death. He proved that there was a greater power at work, and in His life He focused on increasing compassion for those without Hope. He revealed something of the character of God, who sees us, cries over us, and allows us to continue to choose freely how we live our lives, even when we (or those around us) make the wrong choice.
True Hope doesn’t fail. I put my trust, my faith, in an unfailing Hope. To trust in anything else is a falsity that will only lead to failure. To trust that God loves me, that He cares for humanity as a whole and has a plan that will lead to greater things for all of us, is Real Hope.
And real Hope is worth holding on to.