“I’ve come to see that part of my calling here is simply to be a person of hope.”
Our car bounced down a dirt road in a small Middle Eastern town, seven of us packed into a five-seat sedan. A dim moonlight lit the blues and oranges of ramshackle gates guarding small properties.
The town sits on the northern edge of a “developing” country. But intermittent terrorist attacks and a limping economy make “disintegrating” seem like a more apt word at times. When locals meet a Western expat like the one driving our car, their surprise often breaks into a question.
“Why are you here?” they ask. “This country will never be fixed.”
This country will never be fixed. You don’t need to live in a broken country to know something of the same hopelessness — the desolating sense that some aspect of your life can never be fixed.
“In the wreckage of deep brokenness, we might feel entirely justified as we adopt a hopeless view of our life.”
For many of us, pervasive, day in and day out brokenness has turned our youthful boast that “nothing is impossible with God” into a weary “nothing is ever going to change.” You might not voice it out loud, but you’ve come to expect that God will not answer prayer, much less “rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1), and that brokenness will dominate your life’s headlines until your obituary takes its place.
It might be a broken country, where terrorists’ bombs explode every attempt at systemic development. Or a broken marriage, where mistrust has evicted tenderness from the home. Or a broken ministry, where the word seems to land only on the path with the birds. Or perhaps just a broken soul, where darkness has extinguished the last shreds of light.
In the wreckage of that kind of brokenness, we feel entirely justified as we adopt a hopeless view of our life. We might even call our hopelessness realism.
Scripture has its share of such “realists” — cynical characters who run life through the grid of despair. The Bible has its Sarahs who laugh at God’s promise (Genesis 18:12), its Elijahs who have eyes to see only God’s enemies (1 Kings 19:14), and its Thomases who resign themselves to death (John 11:16).
But more properly, the people of God are a people of hope. They’re the sort who lock eyes with our world’s fundamental brokenness, size it up from head to toe, and still step into the ring.
- Abraham looks at his barren wife and “in hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations” (Romans 4:18).
- Ruth turns her eyes from a dead husband to a new country, and tells Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge” (Ruth 1:16).
- Habakkuk sees the Babylonian hordes coming to destroy his people, and still he sings, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18).
- Micah collapses under the weight of his own sin, and yet he boasts, “When I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8).
“When we welcome hopelessness and cynicism in the name of ‘reality,’ we are not being realistic enough.”
Each one of these saints knew what it was to stand neck-deep in brokenness. They felt the tension between God’s promises and their seemingly hopeless circumstances. And yet they still chose to hope that God could give “life to the dead and [call] into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). By faith, they banished despair as they grasped onto “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
In other words, they were people who saw reality as it really is.
Heart of Reality
Each of the stories shows us that, when we welcome hopelessness and cynicism in the name of “reality,” we are not being realistic enough.
If you peel back the layers to get at the heart of reality, you won’t find a black hole of brokenness; you’ll find “the God of hope” (Romans 15:13). You’ll find the God who gives children to barren women (Genesis 21:1–2), the God who welcomes young widows (Ruth 2:20), the God who fills disillusioned prophets with joy (Habakkuk 3:18), the God who pleads the cause of his sinful people (Micah 7:9). And if you keep on looking, you’ll find the God who entered the very dungeon of hopelessness in Jesus Christ, and three days later shattered the door.
This world is not a Shakespearean tragedy, where fate wields his merciless scythe and leaves the stage full of dead bodies at the curtain’s close. No, this world is more like a comedy — not because it’s so full of laughs, but because it’s headed for a happy ending: a marriage and enough food to go around for eternity.
Christian hope, then, is not the kind that blindfolds itself to reality. It’s the kind that looks at a newly sealed tomb and says, “This story’s not over.”
People of Hope
Of course, the hope that sits at the heart of reality does not guarantee that all of the brokenness we feel will heal quickly — or even at all in this life. Your country might take decades to develop, or it might disintegrate further. Your marriage might take years to thaw, or the cold might settle in deeper. Your ministry might grow incrementally, or it might wither and die. Your soul might brighten by imperceptible degrees, or the darkness might linger until the end.
“Jesus’s empty tomb stands as a solid, immovable witness that brokenness is beaten.”
But the hope at the heart of reality does guarantee something: change is not only possible, but surely coming. Jesus’s empty tomb stands as a solid, immovable witness that brokenness is beaten. With the God of hope running the world, the risen Christ at his right hand, and their mighty Spirit living inside you, no brokenness can stand forever. One day, our hope will reach its fulfillment in the coming of the Son and the dawning of eternity, and he will speak the final word that exiles brokenness from the earth. No more splintered countries, no more icy marriages, no more floundering ministries, no more depressed saints.
And when we reach for that hope with the fingers of faith, we will live in today’s brokenness differently. We will straighten our backs, lift our chins, square our shoulders, and remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58) — even in this world’s most hopeless circumstances. Our default response to brokenness will not be “nothing is ever going to change,” but instead “nothing is impossible with God.”
We may still be a sorrowful people — burdened, broken, and beaten up — but we will not be a cynical people. We are a people of hope.