Trust to hope

Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane–Red in Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption

Farewell. Look for your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands–Éomer in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers

For we walk by faith, not by sight—2 Corinthians 5:7


Reader response to A view from the darkness was notable. It came in the form of email and personal conversation rather than blog comments—probably because of the intensely personal and emotional nature of suffering. It was clear to me that the topic resonated. Unfortunately, this suggests that suffering is as pervasive a part of the human experience as we probably suspect.

In that post I tried to address God’s faithfulness to us, particularly in the darkness—his promises.  Today, I will do my best to describe what I think our role is—how we signal our desire to have an encounter with God. In so doing, I think we’ll see the importance of the larger life narrative to which we ascribe—the robust description of the world (discussed in Which reality, whose philosophy?) that dictates how each of us interprets events.

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One of the great things about blogging, as opposed both to other forms of media and to life, is that you can edit over time.  Once a newspaper article is printed, your only hope of revision is the little “corrections” box in the next day’s paper.  And as we all know, there’s no revision in life. We can die in the despair of “if I only this” or “had I not that” but there are no do-overs.

I doubt many of you know this (I feel lucky to have you read once), but I obsessively re-read and edit inklingz posts. Most changes are for style or readability, but recently a loyal reader asked if I realized I had altered A view from the darkness in a more material way.  She told me it initially read as if I hoped there was something to find in the darkness and later read with more certainty that indeed we will find God in the darkness.

Had something changed in my thinking?

My knee-jerk response was: Of course not!…I was merely trying to more effectively capture what I wanted to express all along. But on a long run this week (where I accomplish a good amount of my thinking these days), I realized something about faith that is difficult to quantify or explain: God meets those who take a step toward Him in faith, in such a way that faith itself is multiplied.

When I looked into the darkness last week, I can’t tell you I saw much but the thick black of a moonless night. But I also knew there was something I could not see and I was doing my best to reach for it.

I ‘knew’ because of the larger life narrative in which I believe. It allows me to look beyond my immediate circumstances and see a story playing out that suggests that each moment is more than just another moment in a set of disparate, meaningless events (see On the (in?)significance of what we do—two perspectives).

It reminds me of an illustration discussed in Exclusivism that welcomes all—of blind men each touching a portion of an elephant. Each one comes to a unique conclusion as to what he’s encountered—none of them able, based on his limited viewpoint, to identify the massive animal.

Similarly, when we see no light in the darkness we’re not seeing the full picture, the larger narrative.

Pain, guilt, shame, loss, broken relationships, loneliness, unanswered prayers and questions have a way of drowning out the rest of life. If we find only despair when a loved one dies, we’re holding an elephant’s leg. When our mistakes have hurt people we love, we feel a trunk smacking us in the head. When guilt or shame or embarrassment keeps us up at night, it’s the constant scratch of a tusk. The larger elephant is lost in each case. This makes sense. As we concluded when we first discussed the blind men, only one who sees all can reveal the elephant’s full form.

Likewise, I would suggest that there is a larger picture in life of which we, without help, can see only part.  It’s a cosmic picture that allows us to make sense of our moment in history. It requires the context of both the past and the promised future as only life’s Author can provide—the One who sees (and has seen) all. It’s His narrative—his story to tell.

The Bible tells us it started when God created us to share in a perfect relationship with Him and gave us a world full of good things for our sustenance and enjoyment (see here). Unfortunately we severed that relationship through sin (see here) which resulted in a fallen world full of suffering and brokeness. Even still, God made a covenant with Israel that through that Nation, He would redeem all of creation. God came to earth himself as Jesus Christ (from an Israeli bloodline) to suffer and die at the hands of men, thus fulfilling His covenant with Israel. Jesus’ death paid the debt we owed to God (see here), restored our standing before Him and guaranteed His redemptive end—the day when creation will be restored to its intended state. Though we can be certain of that end, we remain in a broken world as we wait.

Unfortunately, these realities are not obvious in our day-to-day lives. Though current suffering is consistent with our time and place in God’s narrative, darkness still rattles us and our circumstances often lead us to question his reality—doubts begins to echo in our hearts. We ask whether our lives have value, whether God cares, whether He’s in control or whether there’s a God at all! The echo grows…telling us life has only what meaning we ascribe to it. It’s the voice of despairing darkness—it’s a larger narrative that there is no larger narrative (told by those who claim to see the full elephant they believe no one else can see!).

Hope can indeed be a dangerous thing. It depends on what you hope for—who you trust in. I think in our hearts we want to believe, we hope, that there is a God who loves us, wants us to have abundant life and is in control of the future. Living in that reality takes a step of faith.

For those who have never encountered God, it’s a first step. For those who have, it’s how we we live our lives.

I try to be as metaphysical as I can in this space and realize I’m veering from that path—but one cannot take the mystery out of faith altogether (otherwise, it would not be faith at all!). The mystery I speak of is this: the unseen God will reveal Himself to us if step towards him with all the faith we can muster.

If you grab hold of a rescue rope you cannot see, it would be no less real to you simply because it was invisible—so long as it holds your weight.  In the end, it’s not the visible-ness of the rope that makes it real, but the certainly with which it holds you—a certainly which comes only from trusting to hope, letting your feet off the edge and making a plunge for it.

(Who decided that visibility was the primary test for real-ness, anyway? We believe in gravity and we don’t see it. We believe in it because it shows itself to be true, in spite of being invisible).

That’s faith. It’s bringing the larger (invisible) reality to bear on our circumstance, rather than letting our circumstance dictate our reality. It’s when we put enough trust in the larger narrative to act on the innate hope inside us—and take a step toward the God our hearts so desire. When we do, we find there was something in the darkness all along. We see Him more clearly with each step of faith. We begin to hear a new echo, distant at first, but growing—it exclaims His faithfulness even in our trials.

Hope in this God is not dangerous—He does not disappoint. Though we cannot see Him, He shows Himself true time and again. I am certain that gravity will fail us before He does.

Yes, something probably changed in my thinking this week.  In the darkness I looked for God and saw only darkness. But looking for God counts as faith—at least a little faith. When I reached, he met me there and my certainty was multiplied.

We do not get do-overs in life, but it is never too late to take a step of faith toward the God who is working, even in our losses, questions, mistakes and failures to bring us abundant life. Though we may see only a piece of it, it is never too late to explore the upside-down, inside-out kingdom where grace and forgiveness reign, where tears will ultimately be wiped away, never to fall again—and where, if we look closely, we will see God’s restorative plan for the world already in motion. He guaranteed a happy ending when He came to die in our place. Will he not also come to you when you reach out to Him?

Faith is the confidence of things hoped for and the certainty of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). Trust to hope.

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Aragorn:  We have time. Every day Frodo moves closer to Mordor.

Gandalf:  Do we know that?

Aragorn:  What does your heart tell you?

Gandalf:  That Frodo is alive. Yes. Yes, he’s alive.

—From J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King

  1. I like this post! I was kinda worried that you were losing hope for a second. Maybe I read “A View From Darkness” wrong, but thats what I got. Looking forward to more!

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