One might expect that in Africa, where life is wrought with hardship and uncertainty, hope would be in short supply. However, the very opposite is true. Here hope, at least among those who follow Jesus, is one thing that can be found in abundance.
And I think that in this, the African Church has understood something of hope that most of us miss. Over the last two years since we lost our son Josiah, we have simultaneously grieved and tried to maintain hope that all of it would somehow be redeemed. But the challenge in such a loss is that one can become quite afraid of hope. This is simply because hope plants seeds of expectation, and if those expectations are not met, then one inevitably reaps a harvest of disappointment. In order to avoid more of the overwhelming disappointment with which we had become all too familiar, we learned to keep hope at arms length.
As human beings living in a temporal world, we tend to be event driven. We measure our lives as a procession of events and we tend to face life’s challenges through the simple knowledge that time, as they say, marches on. What we are experiencing today will not last forever, and we look to have our present disappointments eventually eclipsed by things we anticipate in the future. Tomorrow’s expectations are the shelter under which we weather today’s storms.
The problem with this approach, though, is that we end up building hope upon uncertainty. Tomorrow is always only a potential. It can never be a promise. Because of this, I have come to believe that God uses disappointments, suffering and catastrophe in our lives to move us out of an event oriented hope, and into a Person oriented hope. For as long as we hope in things that are tenuous, then we will never have genuine hope at all. We will only have the illusion of hope.
Yet, our lives themselves are inherently tied to the clock and to temporality. From the day we’re born we begin our slow march toward the grave. Time is our constant stalker. And so nothing we can do can cause us to move from that illusory event-centered hope to a God centered hope. Only God himself can bring about that transformation. And the whole process begins with the loss of the events themselves. Only when the event in which we had hoped––whatever it may be––has been lost, and we have surrendered ourselves to its oppressing blows, do we begin to discover hope in God Himself. We are hoisted out of an event-centered hope only be being totally and desperately cast upon the mercy of Him who was hoisted on the cross. It is there at the cross that all our hopes find life, because it is there, and there alone, that we ourselves find life.
At the cross, we truly begin to discover that, as the song says––“our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.”
In God alone, do we find hope that is worth having. This is because goodness and mercy are His very nature and therefore it is God’s nature––not some event that may or may not come, that is the promise to which we cling and the essence of genuine hope. And so, James’ sometimes perplexing admonition to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds”––begins to make sense; “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).