Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)
There are times that I feel absolutely hopeless, rejected, incapable. It isn’t logical because I know who I am in Christ. Yet, there are nights that I cry myself to sleep, or lie awake, or panic, or hate myself even as I am telling myself the truths about Christ’s love for me and who God has made me to be. It’s like the lies are screaming louder than the truths sometimes.
During those times, I often wonder where my hope went. Did it leave? Did it disappear? Did I lose it along the way somehow? What do I have to do to get it back? Is it really gone? It can’t be true that I am actually, literally hopeless. Even in my hopelessness, I have to believe that hope is there, buried somewhere or hiding or blocked by the smog.
At the small group my husband and I attend, we discussed the first half of Romans 5. Hope, peace, and reconciliation are huge themes in that passage, and the group was somewhat fixated on verse 4-5: “…and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” Some translations say that “hope does not disappoint us.” People mentioned that it seemed contrary to what society often tells us–to not get our hopes up because we’ll be disappointed. People referenced situations in their lives where they were hopeful and then sufficiently disappointed when things didn’t work out. How can we have hope that doesn’t disappoint when it is known fact that reality often does not match our hopes for reality?
Worldly hope will always disappoint, someone said. And that’s part of life. That suffering we experiences from hopes that disappoint us produces endurance, and the endurance produces character. Our hopes are deferred, and we suffer, and as we suffer, we develop character. And that character in turn produces hope (see vv. 3-5)–but a different kind of hope from the hope that initially disappointed us.
The hope Paul is talking about in verses 4 and 5 is not the same kind hope we have for a new job, or the hope for a raise, or the hope that it won’t rain on our wedding day–because those kind of hopes will inevitably disappoint.
But the hope that doesn’t disappoint or put us to shame is the eternal hope that we have that is rooted in Christ. It’s the kind of hope that is always at the back of my mind even in my despair. It’s the kind of hope that hopelessness, depression, anxiety, fear–you name it–cannot, will not touch.
It’s the kind of hope that wipes the tears from my eyes when I cry myself to sleep. It’s the hope that gives me the strength to get up in the morning even when I don’t see the point or when my body hurts. It’s the hope that gives me some unknown will to live. It’s the one hope that matters–the hope and trust that comes from knowing God’s intentions for me. The hope that comes from the love “God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (v. 5b). Even in my most disappointing, seemingly hopeless moments, I still have hope.