The Dynamics of Change: Hope

Dr. Brian Allison

This past Friday night my wife and I watched a rather intense interview with Lady Diana, wife of Prince Charles (Diana and Charles separated in December, 1992). As we were listening to this interview, both my wife and I were impacted with the honesty and the straight-forwardness of Lady Di. The questions asked by the interviewer were very pointed and very revealing. At one point, the interviewer asked Lady Di if she was doing the interview to 'get back' at her husband (Charles had given a revealing interview a few weeks earlier). Lady Di retorted, "I do not sit here with resentment. I sit here in sadness, and in hope that there will be a future for my husband, a future for myself, and a future for the monarchy." In hope, Lady Di apparently has found the strength to wait. In hope, Lady Di apparently has found the courage to press on. Hope, like belief, is empowering. It provides us with meaning and purpose in our lives when all else seems to have failed. In hope, one has a reason to keep going, to not give up, to persevere. O.S. Marden says, "The hopeful person sees success where others see failure; sunshine where others see shadows and storms."

Hope answers to severe grief and pain

The dynamic of hope can bring about change in one's perspective and in one's direction in life. In hope, one is prepared for change. In fact, hope provides the 'possibility factor' behind all change. The teaching in the book of Lamentations provides us with insight into hope as a dynamic of change (for the better). Lamentations is a dirge of the prophet Jeremiah. This prophet bemoaned the tragic events that befell Jerusalem. Jerusalem was ravaged and destroyed by the invading Babylonians. Wreckage and carnage were rampant. Excruciating suffering was pervasive: people were slaughtered en masse; parents ate their children in order to survive; pillaging and plundering were widespread. The situation was extremely desperate.

Now, in writing this dirge, Jeremiah personifies Jerusalem. He portrays Jerusalem as pouring out her heart, expressing deep sorrow and grief in the midst of her pain and affliction. So, Jerusalem bemoans, "For these things I weep; my eyes run down with water; because far from me is a comforter, one who restores my soul; my children are desolate because the enemy has prevailed...The LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against His command; hear now, all peoples, and behold my pain; my virgins and my young man have gone into captivity...See, O LORD, for I am in distress; my spirit is greatly troubled; my heart is overturned within me, for I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword slays; in the house, it is like death" (Lam. 1:16,18,20). The inhabitants of Jerusalem were in great distress. So, we further read, "Their heart cried out to the Lord, 'O wall of the daughter of Zion, let your tears run down like a river day and night; give yourself no relief; let your eyes have no rest. Arise, cry aloud in the night at the beginning of the night watches; pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord; lift up your hands to Him for the life of your little ones who are faint because of hunger at the head of every street'" (Lam. 2:18,19). What a graphic picture of mourning!

Now, Jeremiah personally identified himself with the severe national grief and pain. He personally entered into Jerusalem's affliction and distress. Jerusalem's suffering became his suffering. He lamented, "I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His [God] wrath" (Lam. 3:1). Notice what he actually experienced as he identified himself with the tragedy and sorrow of Jerusalem. First, he experienced confusion: "He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not in light" (3:2). Second, he experienced physical debilitation: "He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away. He has broken my bones" (3:4). Third, he was emotionally distraught, and filled with bitterness: "He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship...He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drunk with wormwood" (3:5,15). Fourth, he experienced ridicule and rejection: "I have become a laughing stock to all my people, their mocking song all the day" (3:14). Fifth, he was overcome with fear: "And He [God] has broken my teeth with gravel; He has made me cower in the dust" (3:16). Sixth, he was anxious and depressed: "And my soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness" (3:17). Jeremiah's affliction was multi-faceted.

What was the result of all this affliction? Utter weakness and despair. So, we read, "So I say, 'My strength has perished, and so has my hope in the LORD'" (3:18). What a terrible predicament! Severe pain and grief often result in physical and emotional weakness and dark despair. For example, consider again Lady Diana's situation. Even the early years of her marriage to Prince Charles were unsteady. In 1986, Prince Charles committed adultery. Lady Di was devastated. In addition to the pain of unfaithfulness, she experienced stress and disappointment from the incredible (often insensitive) media pressure that surrounded the Royal couple. Further, she experienced isolation and rejection from the other members of the Royal family. As a result of this emotional pain and grief, she experienced sheer emotional and physical weakness and great despair; a state that particularly manifested itself in severe bulimia, as well as in self-mutilation (she cut up her arms and legs, in an attempt to release some of the intensity of the inner pain and grief).

Hope results in confidence and inner strength

Though Jeremiah's circumstances were desperate and bleak, and his experience extremely distressful, he managed to move from a state of inner pain, grief, and gloom to that of inner strength, confidence and perseverance. So, first, he bemoaned, "So I say, 'My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the LORD'" (3:18) – a state of weakness and despair. Yet, second, he exclaimed, "For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men" (3:31-33). Now, how was Jeremiah able to make this transition? How did he move from that negative state to a positive one? How was he able to change for the better? Simply, hope. Jeremiah found hope or, better, hope found Jeremiah. Jeremiah's transition is captured in the following words. He announced, "Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope." When you are in a state of grief and despair, ready to 'pull the plug,' what will see you through is hope. Hope will give you a reason for living.

Hope is a positive outlook. It is the disposition which anticipates and expects a better future, a change for the better. It is 'soul power' that allows you to believe that a brighter tomorrow will dawn; and the result is empowerment; you are able to arise and press on toward that brighter tomorrow. Again, O.S. Marden says, "There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow."

The tragedy of loss of hope: an illustration

Let us consider the words, and a personal account, of Victor Frankl. Victor Frankl was a well-known Jewish psychiatrist. He endured the inhumane horrors of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. At one time, he was a prisoner in the notorious Auschwitz. Now, in order to survive that great ordeal, Frankl endeavoured to transcend his suffering, and find meaning for his life, regardless of his miserable circumstances. He was able to achieve this through the power of hope. In his book, Man's Search for Meaning, he writes, in reference to his stay in the concentration camps, "The prisoner who had lost hope in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future [hope], he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay" (p. 82).

Frankl continues by relaying a sad, but poignant, story. A senior block warden came to Frankl one day and confided in him. This warden shared a strange dream with him. In the dream, a voice spoke to him, saying, "You can wish for any knowledge and it will be granted. Ask anything you want to know and you will receive the answer. All questions will be answered regardless of what you ask." Of course, this senior block warden asked, "When will the war end for me? When will this camp be liberated? When will all the suffering be over?" (Now, this dream occurred in February, 1945. He relayed this dream to Frankl at the beginning of March, 1945). The voice responded, "The suffering will be over, the war will end, by March 30th."

Frankl reports that this warden relayed this dream, and particularly the voice's answer, with obvious hope and excitement. This man was convinced that the voice was right. As the promised day approached, the camp received only less than encouraging news concerning the war. There was no indication that freedom was likely to come about on the promised date of March 30th. On March 29th, this warden suddenly became ill and acquired a high temperature; on March 30th, this warden became delirious and lost consciousness; on March 31st, he was dead. Now, from all appearances, this warden died from typhus, an infectious disease, but Frankl insightfully comments, "Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man – his courage and hope, or lack of them – and the state of the immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect. The ultimate cause of my friend's death was that the expected liberation did not come and he was severely disappointed. This suddenly lowered his body's resistance against the latent typhus infection. His faith in the future and his will to live had become paralyzed and his body fell victim to illness – and thus the voice of his dream was right after all" (p. 84). Interestingly, the Scriptures concur with this cause-effect relationship. We read, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life" (Pr. 13:12). The power of hope produces inner strength, confidence, and perseverance. The lack of hope produces weakness, debilitation, and even death.

True hope rests in God

For the Christian, of course, hope must rest in God. Christian, you must expect, you must wait for, God to help you in the midst of your suffering and affliction. More particularly, your hope must rest upon the truth of God's person, His goodness, and His grace. Jeremiah, in his state of despair and pain, prayed to God for mercy, "Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and the bitterness." Now, as Jeremiah prayed, as he pleaded with God, his mind apparently turned to the truth of who God is and what God can do. While Jeremiah prayed, he remembered God, and that refocus turned the situation around for him. He remembered the truth of God's person and the truth of God's ways; and in that remembrance, hope was given birth and sustained. So, we read again, "Surely my soul remembers [God] and is bowed down within me [remembrance of God produces humility and brokenness]. This I recall to my mind. Therefore I have hope." What did Jeremiah remember? We read, "'The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion,' says my soul" (Lam. 3:22-24a). In the midst of his personal darkness, a shaft of light broke into his heart and shone dimly, by which he was able to see beyond his dismal and desperate circumstances, and even reach beyond his despair and pain, to the possibility of relief and change for the better. Therefore, in remembering God, he could confidently announce, "Therefore I have hope in Him" (Lam. 24b).

Christian, while in your misery, by remembering (and understanding) the greatness, goodness, and grace of God; by remembering that God is sufficiently able to meet your needs, that there is no situation too difficult for Him; by remembering His love and His care, that He will come to help and provide for your every need, the result will be the birth and nurturing of hope. Consequently, you will be able to press on. You will change from a state of despair to one of confidence. You will change from a state of inner pain to one of inner strength.

Maybe this past week, you were surprised by three or four unexpected bills, while scrambling to pay the bills that arrived the week before. You perhaps bemoaned, "What am I going to do now?" Or maybe this past week, you were betrayed by a lifelong friend, someone you trusted. Thus, you found yourself completely discouraged. You perhaps lost all trust in people and humanity. You perhaps thought, "What is the point? I cannot trust anyone." Or maybe this past week, loneliness swallowed you up. You perhaps said, "I feel like I am in this struggle by myself. I have my family members around me; I have my colleagues around me; I have my close friends around me, but I feel incredibly lonely. What is the point of going on?" What is your particular despair or pain? My friend, you need to remember God – that He is a God of lovingkindness, a God of compassion, a God of faithfulness; a God who loves, a God who cares, a God who provides. You need to direct your mind to God, recognizing that He will never leave you nor forsake you; and in that true remembrance, you will enjoy hope. Thus, while in his despair, the Psalmist remembered God – "O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan, and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar" (Ps. 42:6). In that remembrance, he found hope – "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me. Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God" (Ps. 42:11).

Strengthening true hope

As a Christian – as a child of God and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ – you really have something to look forward to; you have something worth living for. Now, maybe your response to this teaching is, "My hope is not strong. If I were to be honest with my own heart, my hope is quite weak. What I know with my head I do not feel with my heart." Is this your situation? Be encouraged. Your hope can be strengthened. For instance, if I were a millionaire (which I am not, nor do I hope to be) – and assuming that I am a man of the utmost integrity and seriousness – and if I were to promise to give you $2,000.00 every week, would you expect it every week? Well, I'm sure you would. Why would you expect it every week? Because knowing my character and realizing what I possess, you would expect a fulfilment of that which I pledged. Do you see the point? Hope rests on, and is promoted by, promise; and God has provided promises for us in order that we may have hope. The connection between hope and promise is obvious. Hope anticipates something in the future; promise is the assurance given that something will indeed happen in the future. Think, for a moment, of a young couple who have just entered into a romantic relationship. The woman may be wishing that marriage would soon be an inevitability. When that young man eventually promises her that he will marry her, that wishing, no doubt, will become hope. An element of certainty now exists. Why? Because he has promised.

So it is with our God. If you want to strengthen your hope, in addition to remembering the truth of God and His ways, you need to consider and meditate on the promises of God. Hope grows out of the soil of the promises of God. God has promised His eternal presence (Hb. 13:5,6); His faithful protection (Is. 43:1-3); His wonderful provision (Jer. 33:3), etc. When you really understand that God has promised, and that His integrity is on the line to be true to His promises, then you will begin to abound in hope; and when you abound in hope, you shall then approach life with courage and resolve.

Hope is a powerful antidote to despair, discouragement, and depression. Christian, God can help, and He will help; you need to believe that. I know that in despair, your faith may be weak, you may wrestle with doubt and be filled with confusion; you may feel void of spiritual power and resources; but ask God that a beam of encouraging light may break into your darkness to give birth to hope in order that you may press on. He is faithful. With hope, there is confidence; with hope, there is courage; with hope, you are prepared for change. June Callwood, in her book Emotions, writes, "All growth, all change involves acts of courage," which means that all growth, all change involves acts of hope. The power of hope is transforming. What is your pain right now? What do you want to change in your life right now? Do you believe that things can get better? Do you believe that there can be a brighter tomorrow? Do you believe that God has a future and plan for you? If you do, my friend, then that hope will empower you, and it will sustain you, until that hope is finally realized. Hope is a medicinal tonic for your soul, that which will keep you going regardless of the circumstances, making you confident that God will come through for you.