Fear pounded in the hearts of the Israelites. Ahead of them lay the seemingly uncrossable waters of the Red Sea. Behind them the chariots of the armies of the Pharaoh thundered toward them. Their panicked complaint to Moses came in the form of an accusation: “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” (exodus 14:11).
This was desperation, pure and simple. Free for a brief but glorious moment, the Israelites faced the dread of returning to slavery in Egypt or death by drowning in the Red Sea.
We too live in desperate times. While we may not be literally caught between the unthinkable option of a powerful army or suicidal calamity, life still throws daunting challenges our way that make us feel like we’re trapped. Men and women who have served effectively at their jobs for years find themselves out of work and out of options. Young people face a future absent of the opportunities known by their parents and grandparents—their education seemingly wasted as they fill the next coffee order. In many parts of the world, danger abounds—extremists’ terror activities on one hand and poverty on the other. Natural disasters inflict inexpressible loss on communities and entire regions.
For such desperate times, hope is the only remedy. But not the flimsy, empty wishes and happy thoughts we often spout when we don’t know what to say but want to say something. We need genuine, meaningful, powerful hope. Hope that holds real promise and substance.
No one is immune from these struggles. We all face the same threats: loss of livelihood, life-threatening illnesses, natural disasters, struggles to make relationships work. But how we respond to these desperate times says a great deal. How should followers of Jesus react? What do our reactions say about the significance of our faith to those who observe us? Do they see in us a reason to hope?
The “Hope Vacuum”
During a recent economic downturn, I noticed how communities around the world were affected by dire evaluations of an impending global financial crisis. I listened as analysts forecasted troubled times. I felt the emotional weight of problems no one seemed able to solve.
Yet when I was among followers of Christ, I saw that our fears, frustrations, and political polarization mirrored the outlook of the society around us. It was as if our conversations and moods had been scripted by broadcast and Internet financial reports. Our comments and attitudes carried the same fearful, angry tone as those who do not share our faith. Any evidence of hope seemed conspicuously absent.
This apparent vacuum of hope is not limited to issues of economic instability. Our hopes and dreams can be dangerously eroded by personal loss and anxiety. A watching world might think our faith has been overwhelmed by doubts about the future.
What does such a loss of confidence say about our faith and the hope it brings? Is it possible that our core beliefs in God have been pushed aside by a kind of “Christian atheism”?
If we have placed our faith in Christ, why do we sometimes feel as though our problems have left us without hope? We claim a relationship with a God of hope, yet we tend to view life from a hopeless perspective.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man.”
Erik Erikson, a 20th-century Danish-American psychologist, had a very different view. He said, “Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. If life is to be sustained, hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded, trust impaired.”
So which is it? Is hope a great evil that promotes torment? Or is it as necessary to life as the air we breathe?