Hope is flat out agonizing. Hope requires that you groan inwardly while, at the same time, waiting expectantly. The alternatives to hope are a deadening of desire and a growing cynicism about what you can really expect from life in this world. Indeed, most hope is squashed by the simple phrase, “I’m just being realistic.” But our war with hope inevitably leads to God: will God respond to the cries of my heart?
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I’ll begin with three sentences from Psalm 27
7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.
13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
But hope is not synonymous with waiting… there is one more element to hope…
hope involves groaning. Groaning from the inside. Longing for something.
Hope is groaning inwardly while waiting expectantly.
Hope is groaning—longing for something—while, at the same time, expecting it to happen.
Now, this is precisely what the German philosopher Nietzsche couldn’t stand about Xnty.
“Look, you Christians talk about hoping in God—you say ‘even though your life is not going well currently, put your hope in God and things will change in the future.’
And this is what’s so abusive about Christianity: it prolongs your torment… because you keep hoping for something that is never going to happen.”
Nietzsche called hope the evil of all evils because it “prolongs your torment.”
Q: What torment is he talking about? The torment of longing for something that is never going to come to fruition.
Now, if you’re a Xn, you probably have this sense that you’re supposed to disagree with everything Nietzsche says.
But he’s putting his finger on something here.
Think about your own life.
There is something that you want—graduate school (pause), a child (pause), your Dad to actually be a Dad—and you’ve wanted it for years and you’ve done everything you can to get it, and you still haven’t gotten it—
isn’t it foolish to hope that this year you’ll get into graduate school,
that next month you’ll conceive,
that this afternoon your Dad will call and tell you he’s entered counseling and he’s beginning to realize how he has failed you as a father?
Your Dad is the same today as he’s always been—you’ve tried to talk to him and nothing works—does it really make sense to hope that he’s going to change now?
This is Nietzsche’s point. Hoping that your Dad will change—that’s just foolish. It’s putting your head in the sand and ignoring what your life has already taught you.
Far better to say, “Look, my Dad’s just not going to change. So stop wanting him to.” Ah, there’s the key—wanting.
Hope… is letting yourself want.
And when you let yourself want something that you don’t have, you experience an inward groaning. A longing. Not-yet-met desire.
Now, if you do that—if you let yourself want, let yourself long for something—you’re halfway to hope. But you’re still not there.
Hope also requires that you wait expectantly.
Hope is not merely longing for a wife, it is longing for a wife while, at the same time, expecting to meet her tonight. [pause]
Groaning inwardly while waiting expectantly.
Hope is agonizing.
Hope is both longing for a husband and anticipating walking down the aisle.
Hope is both yearning for more intimacy with your spouse and anticipating a romantic evening tonight.
Hope is both longing for more meaningful employment and envisioning yourself at your new job. Anticipating it. All the while wrestling with God until you’re at your new job.
Living in hope requires three things to happen at the same time:
Bringing our specific longings and desires to God
Expecting him to meet those desires,
Wrestling with how he can be a good Father when he hasn’t met the desire yet.
The first alternative to hope is a slow deadening of desire and the second alternative to hope is cynicism.
Your body naturally yearns and groans. Look at a child. They are a mass of longings. They always want something.
So groaning, longing is the natural disposition of the human heart.
But what happens when you long for something and you don’t get it? Disappointment.
In time, disappointments pile up. When disappointments pile up, it creates questions about God, doubts, anger, resentment.
When repeated disappointments make longing for something too painful, the tendency is to kill your desire.
The enemy, you feel, is your desire: If I didn’t want that thing so badly, I wouldn’t hurt so much.
And so, slowly but surely, you try to deaden your desire, to numb it out.
Instead of hoping that your husband will begin pursuing your heart, you say to yourself, “He’s just not like that. And, besides, it’s a broken world. Your expectations are too high.”
Q: What is that? It’s a deadening of your desire to be pursued by your husband.
But also, it’s a deadening of your hope in God to do the miraculous and turn your husband toward you in pursuit of your heart.
The second alternative to hope is cynicism.
Repeated disappointments lead to cynicism.
Instead of waiting expectantly for the letter that says you got accepted at such and such graduate program, cynicism says, “it’s not gonna happen.”
Instead of starting some new endeavor—which would invite you to hope—you think, “that would never work.”
Cynicism is often fueled by the following sentence, “I’m just being realistic…
“It’s not that I lack hope, it’s that I’m realistic. Realistic about what I can expect from life in this world…
It would be foolish to hope that my husband will really begin engaging my heart because we’ve fought about it for 7 years and he hasn’t done it yet. I’m not cynical, I’m realistic.”
Q: Now, what’s the problem with that sentence if you’re a Christian? [pause] There is nothing more unrealistic than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There is a form of cynicism that I call Christian cynicism. There’s nothing Xn about it, but I call it Xn cynicism because so many Xns not only have it, but justify it with theology.
It’s a cynicism that is fueled with sentences like, “Hey, it’s a broken world” and “I’m not going to get everything I long for until heaven.” [pause]
Have you heard those sentences? Have you said those sentences?
Now the dilemma with those sentences is that they’re true. It is a broken world. And your longings won’t be fully met until heaven.
However, we often use those sentences as a way to kill hope, to kill desire.
But they’re utterly cynical. It’s cynicism bolstered by theology. It has nothing to do with Jesus.
Q: Why does it have nothing to do with Jesus? Because it’s a denial of the resurrection.
Q: Is it a broken world? Yes, but his broken body was resurrected.
Q: Are you going to have all your longings met in this world? Of course not, but you don’t know which ones.
The question you have to wrestle with is this: What can you hope for from God in the land of the living? [pause]
v. 13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Many of you have killed hope by saying, “God doesn’t promise such and such until heaven, and so I shouldn’t hope for Him to give it to me until heaven.”
Cynicism is the byproduct of repeated experiences of powerlessness.
If you wrestle with hope, it is almost guaranteed that you have experienced a great deal of powerlessness in your life.
If you had to write your story through the lens of powerlessness what would the chapter titles be? What are those areas that you have felt powerlessness?
The core of trauma is powerlessness—it is the inability to say or do something to make something bad stop happening.
Herein lies the biggest reason we hate hope: hope forces us to wrestle with God.
Most wrestling with God is avoided by a simple phrase: “if it be your will.”
You express a desire to God and then tack on the phrase, “if it be your will.”
“Not my will but yours be done” is a beautiful sentence as long as it comes after a 12 round match of wrestling with God.
Now, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, aren’t we supposed to surrender our will to God’s will?” [pause]
Yes, but that’s just the point—you’re called to SURRENDER your will to God’s will. And what does the word surrender mean? It’s to give in after a long… drawn out… bloody war.
You can’t surrender until you have fought with God.
And generals never surrender until they have fought to the end of their strength.
Surrender only comes in a moment of exhaustion.
If you’re not exhausted from fighting with God, then the words, “not my will but yours be done” are not words of surrender, they are words to avoid hope, which is to avoid warring with God.
You can’t talk about hope without talking about wrestling.
If you don’t find yourself regularly wrestling with God, you don’t live with much hope.
Because hope creates longing in you. And unfulfilled longings inevitably drive you to God because God is the only one who can satisfy the longing.
Until you take the risk of hoping that God will fulfill the desires of your heart in this life—until you bring your disappointment and anger to him again and again—God will always remain strangely impersonal to you.
You might know him as God the Savior of the world, but you won’t know him as what the Psalmists call The God of My Rescue. The God of my rescue.
Now, a life focused solely on resurrection is not hope, it’s optimism.
Hope has nothing to do with optimism.
There is a spirit of optimism that has invaded the church. It appeals to us because it allows us to escape staying connected to the longings of our hearts.
It allows us to turn away from darkness and pain. To pretend it isn’t real.
Much of what you hear in bible studies and small groups are sentences that shame you for admitting that you have longings, that you groan and yearn.
Q: What do you do when someone in a group expresses an unfulfilled longing, when someone expresses:
disappointment over not getting into a particular graduate school or
anger over not being married or
sorrow over not being reconciled to their father.
The tendency is to subtly do one of three things:
Encourage them to believe more in the sovereignty of God – “Maybe it’s not God’s will for you to get into that graduate school.”
Wonder if they are idolizing that which they long for – “It kind of sounds like you’re making an idol out of being married.”
Suggest they are wanting too much – “Aren’t your expectations for your Dad too high? He may not be able to give you what you want.”
Q: Are you familiar with the parable of the persistent widow? Jesus tells this story in Luke 18 and it goes like this: a widow kept going to a judge to demand that she get justice against the person who harmed her.
And because the widow keeps coming back to insist on her case, the judge finally relents and gives her justice.
Then Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?”
Here’s the point: It’s not called “the Parable of the Widow Who Learned to Surrender to God’s Will.”
The whole point is that she refused to take “No” for an answer. She knew nothing of “maybe it’s not God’s will for me to get justice in this life.”
Last point. In a very real sense, our hope is not merely in God, our hope is God.
The essence of rescue is not primarily receiving that which you asked for but rather experiencing the responsiveness of God to the hurt in your heart. REPEAT
It is not merely the graduate school or the husband or the healing of an illness that satisfies us, it is the satisfaction of knowing I have a Father in heaven who is deeply involved in the desires of my heart. Who cares. Who responds to my cry.
For help with engaging your story in a group setting, consider the Allender Center’s Certificate Program.