“Hope is the little voice you hear whisper “maybe” when it seems the entire world is shouting “no!””
The concept of hope can be summed up for me in the two words I wrote about last week, the two words that can change any situation– “But God…”
I truly believe that there is hope in God in any situation, but I also think it is important to be careful about where we are placing our hope, and to make sure that our hope is based on reality, rather than wishful thinking.
In the book of Jeremiah the people of Judah have been told that because of their rebellion against God they are going to be captured by the Babylonians and exiled for 70 years. King Jehoiachin and some of the people have already been exiled but in Jeremiah 28, a “prophet” called Hananiah claims to speak for God and tells the people, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: “I will remove the yoke of the King of Babylon from your necks. Within two years I will bring back all the Temple treasures that King Nebuchadnezzar carried off to Babylon. And I will bring back Jehoiachin… and all the other captives.” (Jeremiah 28:2-4)
Hananiah’s words must have brought hope to the people. It must have raised their spirits massively to think that in just two years their nation would be restored and life would return to normal. They must have been encouraged and strengthened by Hananiah’s words.
The only problem is that his words were not true. They were not from God, and the whole situation was not resolved for far longer than two years.
I’m not sure of Hananiah’s motives for saying what he did. Maybe he genuinely believed that was what God was saying, maybe he wanted it to be true so much that he persuaded himself that it was, maybe he just wanted to cheer the people up.
It was destructive though, because the hope he offered was not based on truth. His words resulted in his death, and I’m sure they resulted in deep disappointment for those who heard his words and believed them, only to have their hopes dashed.
I know what it is like to hear words that offer hope and to desperately cling to them, and I also know how devastating it is when the promised hope is unfulfilled. I have especially witnessed this around the area of healing: “Jesus wants to heal you. All you have to do is ask.” “Jesus died for your freedom. All you have to do is claim it.” These phrases bring hope because they promise an answer and raise expectation of a desired outcome, but what about situations when you ask for the healing or claim the freedom and nothing happens?
Sometimes people are healed, but not always. Sometimes God steps in and performs a miracle; other times he doesn’t. Sometimes a situation is transformed instantly by God’s power; other times it drags on and on until you wonder if you are ever going to reach the end.
Unless God has specifically promised it for a particular situation, true hope cannot be in a desired outcome. This was brought home to me last summer as I tried to support a friend who was suffering severe depression and feeling suicidal. I have never felt more helpless, so I prayed a lot, but as I was praying one night I had to face the fact that there were no guarantees. I could pray as much as I liked but I had no idea what the outcome of the situation was going to be. There was a very real chance that she could take her life and I had no guarantee that God would stop her.
My hope had to be in God himself- that no matter what the outcome, God knew, God cared, God was still sovereign, God could still be trusted- and fortunately I found that, with God, there is real hope for the present and for the future.
Later on in Jeremiah, words of true hope are spoken to the people in exile:
“The day will come, says the Lord, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous descendant from king David’s line… In that day Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
We can have true hope because of Jesus: it is not hope that God will always resolve things quickly and make things right, it is not hope that he will always prevent difficulty or tragedy, but it is hope that he is with us even in our weeping and mourning, that he still cares, and that ultimately he has a plan for our good.
In Jesus, God drew close. He came as Immanuel, God with us. He left the glory of heaven and entered our broken world to offer hope, to be a light in the darkness, and to bring restoration, so we can have hope for the present whatever our situation.
And we can also have hope for the future, that one day the restoration will be complete: “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
This is true hope- “a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” (Hebrews 6:19)