One of the worst things in life is to be without hope. One can have, or not have, lots of money, and still have a good life. One can have, or not have, many friends and an full social life, and still be content. One can have, or not have, good health, and still enjoy each day. One can even have, or not have, faith, and still be happy—at least for a while. But life is not good if one does not have hope.
One evening when I was working late at church, the richest man in the county came to visit me. At the age of 33 Carl already had it made. He had a wonderful wife, good kids, excellent health, lots of friends, a good job, was respected in the community, and more than enough money. He lacked nothing—nothing, that is, except hope. For some unknown reason life had become dreary for him; so dreary that he did not even want to get out of bed in the morning. And it was getting worse. Carl had no hope that it would ever get better. How could it? He already had everything. What improvements could be made?
I also remember Cleo. Her husband was about to retire. After a life of hard work and struggle, they were selling the farm and would now have the means to enjoy the quiet retirement they had been anticipating. Then Cleo received the news that she had cancer, and there was no chance of getting better; that is to say, there was no hope. She was only 62 years old, her days were numbered, and it looked as if she had little to be happy about. But I never saw a more contented and hopeful person than Cleo in her dying days. She came to my office one day with some requests for her funeral. One thing she asked is if I could use for my sermon text her favorite verse, Joshua 23:14. Joshua, at the end of his life, says there: “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of the good promises that the Lord your God gave you has failed. Not one has failed, but all have been fulfilled.” Cleo had received a death sentence just as she was about to enjoy what could have been her best years, and her favorite verse was about God had never failed her. She could say that because she knew that the fulfillment of God’s greatest promises was yet to be for her. Before long she would be dead here, but then she would be with her Lord in heaven, more alive than ever.
One more example. Dan was dying of cancer, and he too was filled with hope. But his hope was of a different kind. His hope was that he most certainly and without a doubt would get better. Everyone who visited him commented on what a positive attitude he had. Years ago he had beaten cancer, and he knew he would beat it again. As time went on, he never received a single encouraging word from the doctors. His prognosis was bad from the beginning. The treatments were not working, and finally he was told, nothing would work. Still, he would not believe it, and stayed confident that the hoped for turn-around would begin any day. He had never paid much attention to religion, and he did not now either. Why should he? He believed would get better and then still have plenty of time to get right with God. When I tried to give him the opportunity to talk about faith and the promises of God and the hope of eternal life in heaven, he wanted to hear none of it. He wanted only to tell me how he had beaten cancer before and he beat it again, and wondered what I thought about the great season the Minnesota Vikings were having. He was just as positive in his hope that the Vikings would win the Super Bowl as he was that he would get better. But both hopes were disappointed in the same week, when the Vikings lost in the playoffs and Dan died.
Unlike Carl, Cleo and Dan both had hope, even in their desperate circumstances. But Cleo and Dan had two very different kinds of hope.
These three individuals illustrate three different kinds of living with, or without, hope. One can be totally hopeless, like Carl, and then feel like life is not worth living. Or, one can be filled with a false hope like Dan; but that is not good either. Life is best lived when one has a true and certain and eternal hope, like Cleo. Not even death can destroy such a hope as that.
The fifth chapter of Romans has a few things to say about hope. Verses one and two begin by describing the source of such hope: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” Paul then goes on to say how we may obtain such hope. There is a progression of four stages, and at the final stage, we reach hope. Verses three and four: “And so now, we can rejoice in the HOPE of the glory of Clod. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces HOPE.”
According the Bible, that is the way to hope. Did you notice that the path to hope begins with suffering? One might think that is an odd place to begin. But the verses before and after these words, indeed the whole book of Romans, makes it very clear that Paul is talking about a very specific kind of hope here. He was talking about HOPE IN GOD. It is when we suffer that we are most effectively led back to God. (continued…)