What Hope Looks Like / by Michael Nichols

Okay. Let's hit the ground running. Forget metaphors and analogies for now. Let's talk about hope.

So, when was the last time you saw it?

When was the last time you talked about it?

When was the last time you gave it out?

When was the last time you took it away from someone who needed it?

Honestly, these questions are a lot harder to answer than they actually should be.

Honestly, I don't like the answers I've had to give to these questions at different times.

Honestly, there were times when hope was less than present in my world.

Honestly, something is wrong, and it needs to change.

Now, let's get ugly.

Let's talk about...

... suicide.

It's the second leading cause of death for young people 15-24 years old.

Let that sink it.

It's not some illness.

It's not natural causes.

It's not car accidents.

It's not drug abuse.

It's suicide.

Life ends. That's a given.

Life was not meant to end. That's why it hurts.

Life was not meant to hurt. That's why some want it to end.

...But we made a choice a very long time ago to choose independence rather than life Himself, a life that would have been much freer than the life we now live. That's why life must end and why it hurts until it does.

We blame God for so much, yet it was our choice that severed us from He who gives life. That is not to blame the suicidal for their thoughts, but to blame all of us for everything wrong with us, including when the world turns so sour that it is no longer bearable for some, because yes, every time we reject love of others for our own personal agenda, we are guilty, every one of us. But that is not the nature of the living God.

He never wanted harm to come to us. Not before the fall and not after. What good Father would? Yet what loving Father would restrict His children from free will, thereby preventing any kind of honest relationship with Him? Without the potential for failure, of what value is success? And without the possibility of reconciliation, of what value is free will to choose wrong?

Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” --Genesis 2:15-17

"Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’" --Ezekiel 33:11

Isn't it amazing? In the beginning He warned us so we could make the right choice and not die, yet we failed to do even that. Now, even for those who are guilty (meaning all of us), He would prefer they repent and return to Him, give into love rather than self! He doesn't want us to destroy the world He gave us, but He's isn't responsible to make our choices for us. Yet even when we and our circumstances, even those by whom we are surrounded, fail, God is with us.

That's the ultimate hope, right? When we are at our worst, He is always--yes, always reaching out to us. Because He lives, we have a reason to live, too. He is the reason I live because I once felt I shouldn't. When I came to be shown that the God who is infinitely higher than us loves us so much that He came down to walk among us and die for us, I realized that if it He considered it right to die to save my life, then it was right to let Him save it, to live on and let Him carry me through and change my mind about the things I thought I knew. For some reason, the Most High God wanted me alive. Okay. Then I'll live. When the Most High God wants us around, that's kind of a big deal, and a glorious privilege, the most beautiful love, and the most persistent hope.

Honestly, though, when we go out into the world, when we talk amongst ourselves, how much of that hope are we conveying?

So what does it look like? This hope we claim. How does it show up when we talk? Does it show up? Really, does it? Is it a part of our conversations? Is it just an afterthought to what we consider the core of our lives? When we tell others about Christ, what do we actually say? What do people actually hear? When you live a life looking for hope, you start to take notes.

Who claims they have it?

How do they give it out?

Do they give it out?

I've come to the conviction at the low points of my life, when I expected those who claim to bear the same hope as I to help me through, that many followers of Christ, though we may be rightly passionate about what we believe, tend to run away with those passions in a way that is not conducive to the conveyance of the gospel and the enacting of the "ministry of reconciliation" to God. (Now, hardcore denominationalists and fundamentalists, understand this about what I just said before we go further. When I say we shouldn't "run away" with our passions for the gospel, I'm not saying we should "be lukewarm." Read on, and I'll explain.) When we become so blinded by our love for the gospel itself and the fact that we ourselves understand it that we cannot see and minister to the immediate needs of a person, treat them with kindness, hear them out... I don't know, be friends to them... what has happened in effect is the person attempting to convey the gospel nas nullified the message of the gospel in them. Though we were "reconciled to God," we have, through a pride in the understanding and reception of the gospel, shut our ears to the voice of the Holy Spirit and rendered ourselves unable to be agents of the reconciliation we have claimed.

When speaking Jesus to the world, are we trying to convince them to buy our brand of doctrine to join our brand of church? Are we trying to sell them a lifestyle change that will fix all of their lives? Are we minimizing their struggles? Are we giving them the floor to speak, to share how they feel without repercussion? And what if they just don't want to talk? Are our beliefs so valuable that we would jeopardize outreach by being so offended by someone not willing to share their feelings, or not willing to listen to ours, or in the end not willing to accept Jesus as the actual God of creation?

What if we were so concerned about convincing someone else that we were right about dogma that our back ended up turned from their pain, that we ignored their need for the practical hope of the message of the gospel, and that they took their life later on, and maybe the news never even rattled our eardrums before we crossed from this world into the one beyond death?

When people are more concerned about their opinions being offended (because face it, that's what they are, be they true and valid or not) or their person respected than truly engaging the world around them, what kind of picture does that paint for them about Jesus? Was Jesus concerned about being respected when He hung on the cross atop Golgotha? Because I'm pretty sure He wasn't debating dogma from His grim vantage point. Even from the cross, He dealt hope to people. He gave hope to someone else sentenced to death, whose heart was broken in guilt, except unlike Jesus, he actually committed a crime. Yet when it comes to giving hope to people with whom we brush shoulders daily, people whom we try not to offend yet are hypersensitive to their offenses, we seem to be at a loss. Receiving anyone's respect shouldn't be our goal. Our goal should always be to learn where their pain is (which may manifest in their ability to respect, amongst other reactions) and how we can minister to that.

We're too concerned with our corner of the world to pay any attention to whether or not they are okay in theirs. If you've read the gospels, you know that Jesus spent much more time ministering to people than creating dogmatic arguments. Sure, the world is harsh. True teaching is true teaching, and sin is sin, and that's a fact that must be spoken. But Jesus came bearing hope. We in turn have been charged with the safeguarding and conveyance of that hope, though He sometimes He has to circumvent our inability to do that. Have we lost that? He was concerned about the lives of the people to whom His Father sent Him, and though He did teach His followers the doctrines we still believe today, those things are simple surroundings to a core of three things that remain when all the dogma and the doctrine and the seminary degrees, the philosophy and lifestyles fall away.

Three.

Three simple things.

Trust, hope, love.

Trust that Jesus is who He said, that He died and rose again, and that He moves in us through the Holy Spirit.

Hope as a light during dark times, reminding us that His will works out in the end for those who love God.

Love that empties us of self and makes us fully alive toward God and toward others.

That's it.

Our entire belief system caves in on itself without these three being at the core.

If how we behave toward both the faithful and the missing does not lead back to these three things, we preach in vain, our faith is pointless, we are still in sin, and there is absolutely no reason we should be able to convince anyone that what Jesus came to do is anywhere close to true.

Jesus came bearing life. Why should we make a person want to die?