Hopelessness, v.1 and v.2

There are moments, perhaps seasons, in which we lose hope. Things haven’t gone well, and continue to go poorly with no end in sight. So we pray. We ask our friends to pray. And some of them ask us to have a little faith and believe in miracles.

Sometimes the reminder helps.

Sometimes, well, not so much.

What is the relationship between faith and hope, anyway?

I think we need to begin by distinguishing between two ways of thinking and talking about “hope.” Let’s call them version 1 and version 2.

Version 1 is the subjective experience of hope — hope as a feeling or positive emotion. In the psychological literature, hope is often portrayed as a species of optimism, a positive outlook grounded in a can-do attitude and an ability to imagine pathways to success. To be hopeless, conversely, is to believe that nothing you do can make a difference.

Version 2 focuses on the substance of what we hope for. When we can envision a solution to a problem, for example, that can become our hope. For example, when we speak of having one “last” or “best hope,” we’re not talking about a feeling, but an outcome or solution to which our fragile feelings of optimism are attached. When we say, therefore, that a situation is hopeless, we mean that there are no solutions, no happy endings.

The biblical perspective is that Christians have a God-given hope (version 2). Death will be swallowed up in resurrection life; God will make his home with his people, and sorrow will be no more.

That’s not to say, however, that Christians are always hopeful (version 1). We get overwhelmed by circumstances. Our imagination, our vision of a promised future, is constrained by the painful needs of the present.

And this is where faith comes in.

Think again of Martha, as we have in recent posts. There is hopelessness (version 1) and flat resignation in her statement to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Ah, Jesus. If only…but now it’s too late.

In actuality, of course, the situation is far from hopeless (version 2), regardless of Martha’s state of mind. The very embodiment of the power of life is standing right in front of her, even if she doesn’t know it, even if she can’t understand his declaration that this is so.

But Martha is a woman of faith. She and Mary wouldn’t have sent for Jesus in the first place if they hadn’t believed in his power to heal. Even now she expresses confidence in his intimate relationship with God (vs. 22), and declares Jesus to be Lord, Messiah, and the Son of God (vs. 27).

As I’ve said before, she still doesn’t know what Jesus will do. But she knows who he is, and it makes a difference.

Are we feeling hopeless (version 1)? The answer isn’t to try to have more faith in outcomes that aren’t our true hope (version 2). Yes, God does miracles. But God doesn’t necessarily promise us the miracles we want. Martha has faith in Jesus. She knows who he is. She knows he has the power. And she trusts him to do what’s right, whatever that may be.

But of course, as we shall see shortly, Martha gets the miracle she wants, even when she doesn’t expect it.

You have to love that. Stay tuned.