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Hope & Promise

“By hope we lay hands on the substance of what we believe and by hope we possess the promise of God’s love.” ~ Thomas Merton

The Father reaches out to us through his great and precious promises. Hope encourages us to reach toward him with both hands, ready to grasp his love.

I hear God’s promise, perhaps through reading the scripture or listening in prayer. The promise requires something of me: to believe, to hope. When I respond with hope the promise comes alive in me, it no longer resides in a book or as an idea, it becomes a living thing.

It’s too easy to reduce the words of God to principles and precepts, as if the Father is the Great Theology Lecturer in the Sky. But no: he is personal, intimate, and close. No amount of study can achieve this intimacy. Intellectuals value learning; the desperate value hope. God's promises are not grandiose proclamations from a mountaintop; they are love-words whispered in my ear—secrets known only to him and me. His promises are not the stuff of contracts and agreements that lawyers can parse and accountants measure; they are bread and wine that sustain my body and lift my spirit.

Each promise from God is personal, even if it is given to many people. Others might hear the very same words and stand unmoved or evaluate the promise with a critical eye. Trusting this promise is a high-risk strategy, they judge. There’s no guarantee of success; the odds are against this plan. But hope is not a strategy: it is birthed when the words of loving parent are received and treasured by a trusting child. We cannot really believe the promises of God until we take the dangerous step of trusting him.

The Apostle Peter understood the dynamic power released in us when place our hope in the promises of God. “Because of his glory and excellence,” he writes in the first chapter of  II Peter , “he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” Hope leads us toward the divine nature and leads us away from the corrupting power of our own desires apart from his promises. It’s not that desire itself is bad; it’s that the promises of God are the proper object of desire. Our desires comfort, ease, security, wealth, and control actually corrupt our souls. Human desires apart from God’s promises will wear us down and break us apart—that’s what corruption is. But desire, when pointed toward God’s promises, become a life-giving tree, rooted deep within us. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” say the Proverbs, “But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” When our hope is in anything other than the promises of God, we will find ourselves heartsick.

There is a modern word for this kind of heart sickness: cynicism. Cynicism is an infection that poisons the everyday blessings of life and multiplies the everyday problems of life. Despair is not the opposite of hope: cynicism is. Cynicism is anti-trust; it is the whispered voice of caution that flows from the self, a self separated from the love of God. It is the illness of our age, presented to us the wisdom of the worldly-wise, self-preservation masquerading intelligence.

Why is cynicism regarded as a useful tool for coping with life but hope is written off as wishful thinking? Hope is the more powerful force for change. Let others label hope as risky: the real risk is to live our lives as if God does not exist. The day will come when the scoffers and cynics will stand amazed that the small and the foolish were right all along: hope is the way forward.

Reader Comments (3)

Thank you, Pastor Ray. A great shot of encouragement for the day.

November 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPC Robles

I love this, Ray. I've always said that the opposite of hope is despair, but now I will have to re-evaluate. Regardless, this is a timely read and it truly inspires me to trust in Hope instead of what I see in front of me "on paper".

November 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGrant D

My thanks to both -- you are each dear to me!

November 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

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