Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Reflections on hope

As I wrote over at Pyro today, hope is as necessary to the human being as food and drink. You can't really live without it.

I started to write "to the Christian," but that isn't true. Everyone needs hope, and everyone has it. The unredeemed man has his own hope, but it is a doomed illusion. Eve and Adam hoped to have God-like knowledge and freedom and autonomy. They acted in hope. But because they did not act in faith, which is to say according to truth, what they attained instead was guilt and shame and wrath and misery and death. And so is the lot of every child of theirs who follows in their footsteps. I wrote a lot more about that somewhere, and it isn't my focus here today.

Here I focus on the Christian and hope.

I lived for years without (or with very little) hope, as a Christian. It was a dark, horrid time. With the occasional clarity of retrospect, I see that the real lack was a lack of faith.

Don't love that phrase much because it's overused and abused, but it's the truth. Understand, though: by "lack of faith" I do not mean "lack of orthodoxy." I was perfectly orthodox. That's not a self-congratulatory statement; it's categorical. I affirmed the verbal, plenary inerrancy of Scripture, the truth of the Trinity, the truth of penal substitutionary atonement, and on and on. Affirmed them with all my heart, internally and with my mouth and fingertips.

The trouble was that I did not embrace for myself the sweetness that comes from those truths to believers. Here we camp a moment on Ephesians 6:16 — "In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." I see the shield as a bit different from the rest of the armor. "The faith" probably does refer to the revealed body of truth. However, excepting the only the sword, all the other items of armor just stay on, once donned. Put on the helmet and leave it; strap on the sandals, and leave them; belt on the belt, etc.

But the shield doesn't do you a bit of good if you don't hold it tight and hold it close. Possessing a shield alone is of little practical value. The only way you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one is if you hold the shield and hold it tight and hold it close.

So for that period, I bristled with flaming darts and little hope, because I possessed the shield, but I didn't hold it close. John Piper's Future Grace helped me see that, and it combined with other facets of the Lord's patient dealing with me to turn me from despair to hope.

So hope comes from personal, appropriating, clinging, living faith, and that faith must come from revealed truth.

We need to have it, live it, speak it. Joni — who has known daily suffering for decades, to a degree few of us can imagine — speaks passionately, eloquently and movingly on the importance of hope. Parents need it, spouses need it, singles need it; all of us need it.

Worldlings have to make it up or materialize it. All of their hopes either are based on lies and illusions, or deal with things that thieves, moths and rust can destroy. They amount to a chimera. Barring repentance and saving faith in Christ, all their hopes are in the final analysis utterly and completely doomed. However good things are now, one day they will turn for the unimaginable worse, and will never improve.

The Christian's case is the precise and exact opposite.

Pastors should cling to and preach more hope. I've known pastors who show little hope; I've been a pastor who showed little. Pastors (most pastors, anyway, superstars aside) are exposed to such disappointment and sorrow and heartbreak. People fail, fall, betray, deceive, slander, malign, are ungrateful. Churches stubbornly refuse to grow. The hardened stay hard. Miracles are few and far, far between.

And you as a pastor may care more intensely than anyone else. Others drop by, go home, flick on the TV, and they're done. The pastor lives and dies with the church. He needs to have a hope that goes beyond how the church is doing this week, or how it's likely to do next week.

And more, the pastor really needs to hold it and preach Biblical hope. As I said, I've known pastors who've been so beaten-up by the church that the whole service has a doomed, gloomy feel. I'm not saying this either in harsh judgment (believe me!) or in lofty disdain (believe me!). I'm just saying it because it's true. My heart bleeds both for them and the church.

Those pastors need to find a hope that will lift their spirits and give them joy regardless of how faithful or faithless or feckless people are. They need that to lift them, and they need that hope to fill their preaching.

Yes, absolutely, preach the holiness of God and the fearful terrors of sin. But also and with equal passion (like Isaiah! like Jeremiah! like Ezekiel! like Paul! like Peter!) preach the sweetness and glories of the Gospel and its hope and promises.

I say this to you, and I say this to me.

Amen.

10 comments:

Mark Patton said...

Amen

Robert said...

We watched "Luther" with our boys yesterday and they saw how life was for those poor people in the dark times of the Holy Roman Empire because they didn't have hope. And then the truth of the Gospel was preached and they received hope. May we never neglect our eternal hope that we have through the perfect life, atoning death, and triumpant resurrection of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

DJP said...

Yep; then Tetzel coming in and playing on (and, for the Pope/RCC, profiting from) that hopelessness infuriated Luther.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Dan,

I had never made that connection - that aha - about keeping tight hold on the shield of faith.

And what a sweetness and joy we have in our hope - our sureness - in the gospel!

Robert said...

May it infuriate us as well when people preach and don't include the hope that we have in Jesus Christ and the whole counsel of the Word of God. You put it well here:

Yes, absolutely, preach the holiness of God and the fearful terrors of sin. But also and with equal passion (like Isaiah! like Jeremiah! like Ezekiel! like Paul! like Peter!) preach the sweetness and glories of the Gospel and its hope and promises.

Pierre Saikaley said...

You see those two adorable girls in my profile pic? Those are my daughters.

God gave those two girls to a wretch like me. Often hardship brings us to the end of ourselves and to the throne of grace, but sometimes, God's overwhelming goodness to us, makes us see our utter unworthiness.

Look at all those promises we have. Amazing grace. Amazing hope in Jesus Christ our LORD.

Rachael Starke said...

@Robert - you called out a big contributor to some recent days of hope-lessness for me.

This was such a great reflection. The darker side of it, though, is how we love friends who don't yet have that hope. We have one such friend I've mentioned before, named Jim. He used to work for my husband. My husband had to fire him after months of trying to help him out of a serious depression. But Jim was so certain of Phil's love for him that they stayed friends. Now he's wrestling with deep trials related to parenting his step-son and managing the father's neglect and horrible values. He's so sensitive to things like injustice, bad parenting, etc. It really makes him despair. It's hard to know how to help him see that the root of the hopelessness in this situation is his lack of hope in Christ.

philbaiden said...

Dan,
I needed this.
Thank you.

Thomas Louw said...

Dan.
Love your post and Pyro and this one here.

I would really like to listen to a sermon about hope.

A sermon about God’s majesty, His providence, His power, His love, His plan, His wisdom and His presence now.

Most sermons about hope point towards heaven, which is what we hope for, long for but, what about today when His providence doesn’t make any sense. Today when, yet again you have open your tired eyes and have not seen a glimmer of hope, that today might be the day when opportunity will knock at your door.

Steve Berven said...

I like how that verse talks about extinguishing ALL the flaming darts. A very important word. That shield is our recourse against anything that the Enemy throws at us.

I think of the movie "300" when they are all crouched down behind their shields as the sky fills with arrows, and they are protected.