A Hope That Never Runs Dry
How do we still hope when all earthly reason for hope is gone? Beverly Draper reflects on why self-reliance and positive-thinking can only take you so far.
There have been many occasions when I have been confronted with situations where people have lost hope. As a medical doctor, most often it has been in the context of an incurable disease and certain death. Paul was in his thirties when he was referred to the oncology clinic at Groote Schuur Hospital where I was working. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer but the doctors told him that he should not worry; the specialists would be able to treat it. He arrived in a very positive frame of mind and after the first round of chemotherapy, he did really well and resumed work. But a few weeks later, he started to get sick again and at his follow up visit it was obvious on his X-Ray that the tumour in his lung was growing and was now larger than ever and was spreading to other parts of his body.He was devastated because he believed that he had come to oncology for a cure.
One afternoon, he called me and asked me to come to his home in Pinelands. I arrived to find a man broken and confused. He asked me to level with him, knowing that I was a Christ-follower and that I would speak the truth. I told him that short of a miracle, he was certainly going to die in the not too distant future. I watched as Paul slowly moved his focus of hope from a medical cure and restoration of his physical health to hope of eternal life in Christ. He was able to find peace and place himself and his family in God’s hands, no matter whether he lived or died.
People who are self-reliant believe that their own talent, intellect, resources and connections provide hope for a future that holds the same or even better friends and family, education and the security of material possessions. In other words, they place their hope in things that make them ‘happy’. It is a hope that is earned rather than given. Many believe that a code of morality will bring security, or having a positive attitude will bring good things. Hope is placed in doctors, teachers, housing officials, employers or even government authorities to improve circumstances. Often this may happen – people get cured, promoted, receive bursaries or get paid out what is due to them. But where does one go when all hope is gone?
To a Christ-follower, hope is the promises of God rooted in what Christ has done for us. Christian hope is not wishful thinking but a certainty in God’s love for us. We no longer need to dig deep into our own resources but can rest in the knowledge that through faith in what Christ has done for us we are grounded in the present, and secure for the future. This hope is no longer dependent upon our abilities or attitude, but is an authentic hope that remains constant in all circumstances. One of these promises is that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. It does not say that all things are good, but that all things work for our good in order that God’s purpose for each of us may be fulfilled.
But how do we as Christ-followers respond to people who have no hope? John Piper says that hope is the birthplace of Christian self-sacrificing love. As people who are living under grace we are called to respond to those without hope. Through the spirit within us we can attain wisdom and knowledge to know the hope to which God has called us. But how do we offer hope to someone when we are not walking in their shoes? It seems trite to simply encourage someone who has no home, does not know where the next meal is coming from or no way of getting an education to simply hope in God.
In the book of Isaiah we read of people stumbling in deep darkness, looking for justice and deliverance that seems far away. The nation of Israel was far from God in a way that had driven back justice and set righteousness at a distance. God looked on them and was appalled that there was no-one to intercede, and reached out to restore them. I believe that as Christ-followers we are called to feel that darkness and respond to the hopeless where God leads us. It is not enough to say that God will bring light out of darkness and hope for the future. While this is indeed true and promised to all who believe, how will people who have no hope believe unless they see the love of God flowing from us?
The hope we have in God is authentic simply because of who God is. It helps us to hope against all odds in our own circumstances. It also prompts us to reach out to those living in despair and respond as God leads us to bring hope to the hopeless.
-Beverly serves on the eldership team of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation, together with her husband, George. They are both medical doctors and lead a medical team from Common Ground Church on a mission trip to Madagascar every year.