Where’s Hope?

24 01 2013

This week, I’m leading our small group in a lesson about Jonah. There are many life lessons to be learned from the man that ran from God.

  1. You can run from God, but whenever you turn back to Him, He is humble enough to accept you and grant you a measure of grace.
  2. God hates sin. Abhors sin. It’s not a choice that He hates sin. It goes against His very nature. He is holy and therefore must destroy sin.
  3. God’s message is for all people. Even in this Old Testament book, we see that God’s message of redemption extended beyond the boundaries of Israel.

The above observations are just a few and could stand a great deal more discussion. However, my thoughts have turned to how God works through difficult situations. We could debate about why there is evil, pain, suffering, etc. (and many, including myself, have) I believe one of the ideas often missing from such discussion is to ask the opposing question, “Why is there pleasure?” But the fact of the matter is there is pain. There is suffering. There is evil in this world.

What can we learn from pain? The old preacher Bebb, in Frederick Buechner’s The Book of Bebb, likens the evil of this world to manure and says, “There’s two main things about it. One thing is it’s stink and corruption and waste. The other thing is if you don’t pile it up too think in any one place, it makes the seeds grow…God’s where there’s seeds growing.” I have to wonder what Jonah was thinking while he was in the belly of the fish. I’m sure it didn’t take him long to repent. Surely not three days. It was probably more like three minutes! But he stayed in the belly for three days. Did God cause the storm or not? Eh…debate away. But the certainty here is that God used the storm…and the fish and the plant and the worm. God used all these things and more to shape the character of Jonah.

So, does God cause the painful circumstances of our lives? Maybe. Maybe we make bad decisions with pain as the consequence. Jonah made a bad decision. But maybe we’re in the midst of pain that we didn’t cause. A friend betrayed us. Someone we loved died. We heard the dreaded word “cancer.” Sometimes we just have to admit that we find our lives stuck in the “Land of Succoth.” Those moments present us with life-altering intersections. We can choose from many avenues in order to cope with our situation.

Some decide that life is so full of pain that we must try to fill it with fun and pleasure. This road leads many to alcohol or drugs. Partying, shopping sprees, never-ending vacations from reality. All trying to forget or mask over the pain. Others decide that life is so full of pain that there’s no escaping it. And so, not wanting to risk enduring another pain, retreat from society, not trusting anyone or getting close to someone else. A few will conclude that life isn’t worth living at all.

But perhaps there is another road. Perhaps, there is a place where the seeds grow. It’s not that there’s no more pain, but it’s that we grow in spite of (or maybe as a direct result of) the pain. It stinks. It hurts. But for those who endure, for those who hold on, there is…hope. I define hope simply as a belief that tomorrow is brighter than today. For me personally, the last two years have been some of the most painful. I lost a close friend to cancer. I lost my job. I’ve made some bad decisions. And while I would never wish to experience the depth of that pain again, (though in a way, I feel it daily) I would also never trade the resultant strengthening of my hope, which is the glory of God. If you don’t know this hope, I’d love to help you find it.

“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Also through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:1-5, emphasis added