Friday, July 13, 2018

77-4 Those Who Have No Hope

Inspired by the song "I Have This Hope" by Tenth Avenue North from their album Followers.
Available at YouTube, iTunes & Amazon.

I have gone through some tough times in my life. Most of these, I will admit, are usually my fault, but there have been many times when I feel like I'm lowered part of the way into the abyss with very little idea how I will ever get out.

I know you can relate. It's the way life is. Even the best lived life has its hurdles. Even the life with the fewest hurdles has had enough abyss moments to understand. The nature of living in a world with people not abiding by God's ways is that pain and sadness are inevitable. And the sad part of this is that most often that pain is actually caused by the people nearest to us, many of whom are abiding by God's ways most of the time.

A lot of the pain is not entirely someone else's fault, or not entirely the fault of our individual actions. Our minds are really great at blowing things way out of proportion, so that the emotional effects of the hurt become more painful than the original hurt by itself.

For a lot of people, these hurts start to become interwoven until this massive mega-hurt monster rises and threatens to destroy us, and we know that we are too weak to stand against it. Often, the very well-meaning people around us really can't empathize with our situation, or for some reason they don't try to. Or, as often happens, we don't want people to see our weakness, and so we hide it. We end up at church on Sunday morning surrounded by a sea of smiling faces, and that fake smile we try to put on doesn't feel very convincing anymore, especially when compared to everybody else's obviously fake smiles. We feel alone, rejected, and on the road to being lost.

The pretty little life we think we're living starts to crumble, and we don't have any energy left to pick up the pieces. We feel that there is no way anything can ever get better. Praying doesn't make the problems go away (it seems) and we go to sleep and blame ourselves for causing all the problems, even when it might have started with somebody else.

And that was just Sunday! And we know what day follows Sunday...

Is that where you're at right now? If so, I pray that the God of peace will be present in your heart, and that you see that He is still strong enough to defeat your toughest obstacles, even if it doesn't seem possible in the moment.

Almost four years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts analyzing how a Christian should view suicide. It sparked a backlash of comments stating how depression is a mental condition and that those who take their life because of it should still be able to go to heaven. In all honesty, my brain was left spinning after thinking so hard about it that I stopped blogging for months. Even four years later, I still don't have the answer.

But what I do know is that I have been to the breaking point. And I haven't broken. No, I'm not saying this to make me look holier than thou. I'm saying this because I discovered something that I have that those who don't know Jesus do not have: hope.

Hope is this interesting understanding that something better is on the horizon. It's oddly encouraging, because even when everything seems destined to the disposal bin, there's this glimmer of understanding that something is going to happen in the future that will make carrying on worth it.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul instructs the readers how to view the death of loved ones. You see, most people in that time were certain that Jesus would come back in their lifetime. So when their loved ones started dying, they became confused. Would they ever see them again? Would they make it to heaven if they died before Jesus came back? These were questions that seem silly today, since none of us were alive when Jesus walked the earth. Obviously, when we die as believers in Christ, we know that we will spend eternity with Jesus.

But in their confusion and grief, Paul wrote to comfort and encourage the brethren:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

It is completely alright to grieve over the loss of a loved one, to feel sadness when that person is no longer with us. But Paul makes an interesting distinction between how we as Christians should grieve versus how the rest of the world has to grieve. And he gives the reason they have to grieve that way: because they have no hope.

Our primary hope as Christians is the hope of heaven, of eternal life with Jesus. We don't have to completely understand it or have a firm grasp on what we really are looking forward to for it to make a decisive impact in our own lives.

Without this hope, the world has no reason to carry on. If this is all there is, and if this sucks, then what good is living anymore? Being purely honest, I don't know how the suicide rate isn't even higher than it is! I know that my hope in Christ has given me a solid and certain reason to carry on when I have reached the bottom of the emotional hole. Without that, I wouldn't know why I should keep trying.

This hope we have because we have seen the proof of who God is. We know by faith that the Word of God is true, and even if that faith is the size of a mustard seed, it's enough to give us a clear reason to lift up our heads and push through whatever comes our way. This life is not all there is. It simply can't be.

What's even more encouraging is that Jesus is alive and active in our lives, if we choose Him to be. If we have been pushing Him away for a time, He will still be there with open arms to embrace us when we come back to Him. So heaven is not the only hope we have; we can have heaven here on earth, although in a very incomplete form due to the existence of sin in the world. But since the main ingredient in what makes heaven heaven is Jesus, we really can have more of heaven on earth than we think, since we have Jesus in our hearts. (And feel free to re-read that sentence and accept the fact that I did mean to say the world 'heaven' twice in a row.)

If you have never felt this hope, come to Jesus. He is waiting for you to call on Him. Romans 10:9 says "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (NASB)" It's so simple and there's nothing you've ever done that will disqualify you from this. Open your heart to Jesus and find a real reason for living.

If you are a Christian and think you have never felt this hope, you are still living aren't you? Hope isn't this overwhelming feeling of joy; it's the still small voice that whispers that you are valuable and that your life has a reason. Seek the Speaker of the voice, and you will find the hope you thought you didn't have.

And understand that life is still going to suck. It's the nature of the world you live in. Hope isn't going to make that friend not betray you, that illness not come, or that layoff never happen. It's there for those times to get you through it to the great blessing God has for you in both heaven and on earth.

Lord, thank you for the hope You give. Thank you for rising from the grave and not staying dead and buried. You showed us and told us that we will rise like You did, into blessing, holiness, and a place where we will see you face to face. Help us to cling to this hope when everything has crumbled around us. And give us the soundness of mind in the hardest times to be able to give the reason we can carry on: we have this hope.

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