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To Have Hope But Things Never Change May Lead to Despair

When Hope Drives You Insane

Some folks have hope, but their situation never changes. They give up and become cynical because they won’t know a different kind of future. Then some have hope that keeps them going regardless of unchanging circumstances. Their hope of the heart buoys them during the hardest of times. It’s not pie-in-the-sky imagination but something anchoring them to the surest of foundations—Christ.

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Two Kinds of Hope

There is a kind of hope like a man on the end of a rope, who pulls you to where he is but does not pull you beyond the trouble. There is another hope that pulls you beyond your problems. It does more than pull you along but brings you through your crisis and out the other side. Red and Andy talked about this in the movie Shawshank Redemption.

Andy: I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company. It was in here (gestures over his heart). That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you. Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?

Red: Well, I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it, though. Didn’t make too much sense in here.

Andy: No, here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it, so you don’t forget.

Red: Forget?

Andy: That there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s somethin’ inside that they can’t get to; that they can’t touch. It’s yours.

Red: What are you talkin’ about?

Andy: Hope.

Red: Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to that idea.

Andy had hope that was “beyond his trouble” while Red’s hope was inside the walls of his trouble. Where you place your hope will determine the kind of life you experience.

Hope Will Help You

Mable’s husband committed suicide last year. Without question, it was the most devastating event of her life. Though her days were dark and complex, she endured because she had hope. Twenty-four years ago, Biff’s wife left him, taking their children with her. Today he is flourishing in Christian ministry. It was hope that buoyed him through the dissolution of their marriage.

Someone raped Biffina as a teenager; she was not a Christian at the time. The succeeding years were the darkest of her life. Then she met Christ. He gave her hope. Today she is a happy and energetic mother of three. Mable, Biff, and Biffina are not unique. They are average people living in a cruel world, alongside thousands of other people just like them. What makes them different is they were willing to do what Red would not allow himself to do.

Red was in an unforgiving prison. His way of escape was not to set himself up for disappointment by expecting anything better than the cold and disappointing world where he lived. He could not hope. He would not hope. It was too painful. The real truth is that he did hope: he hoped that he would not hope. He chose to harden his heart within the walls that surrounded him. He could not see what Andy saw, though they were sitting beside each other, staring at the same things–dirt, razor wire, and cold concrete.

Beyond the Walls

Mable, Biff, and Biffina saw things differently than Red. They lived in prisons too, but instead of willfully incarcerating themselves inside their prisons, they chose to cling to hope–something that was outside their prisons. Like Moses before them, they could see Him, who was invisible (Hebrews 11:27).

They had a hope that persevered. This kind of unmerited grace pushed them through their trials and into a place of quiet rest, security, and faith. That is what hope will do for you if you place it in the right thing.

Red’s hope was in Shawshank Prison. That place was the end of the line for him. That was all he saw. That was as far as he planned to go. To think otherwise would drive him insane. Andy placed his hope beyond the walls of Shawshank, which motivated him toward a better day.

Hope’s Destination

Eventually, Andy’s hope freed him from prison. His hope kept him alive, optimistic, and planning for a better day. We’re all like Red or Andy. We have a choice as to where we’re going to place our hope, and our decision will make all the difference in how we live our lives. What you put your hope in will shape the course of your life and determine the quality of it.

Though you are dependent on where your hope takes you, it is your choice as to the thing or person in which you place it. You decide what you want to put your confidence in and buckle up for the ride. Fortunately for the Christian, we don’t have the dreary hope of Red. Even though Andy set his confidence beyond the walls of Shawshank, it was still not good enough.

  • His hope was like the guy who found his reputation and identity in his work. That is all that he could hope for to find comfort.
  • His hope was like a mother who wrapped herself up in the lives of her children. Their vacillating lives controlled her.
  • His hope was like a girl who found her “salvation” in a dating relationship. Her faith left her feeling empty and eventually hurt.
  • His hope was like a child who longed for better parents, as though better parents were the people who would ultimately save his life.

Hope’s Extent

If these illustrations represent the extent of a person’s hope, they will never be able to transcend the troubles of their lives entirely. Anytime we place our faith in the things of this world, we will limit ourselves by our short-sighted hope, and we will not satisfactorily work through the inevitable difficulties that come.

Our hope has to be in a place and a person that transcends our trouble. There is only one place and one person for that. The location is heaven, and the person is Christ. The Savior of the world has conquered the trouble in our lives—the meaning of the resurrection (John 16:33).

Hope in the Savior is far superior to all sublunary hopes. You and I have a transcendent faith. Hope pulls us through our troubles to a place that is out of the reach of our problems.

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Hope’s Help

Given we all are “hope junkies,” we have to hook our minds to something. What is that something you “hook your mind and heart to” as a way of finding help? What is your hope? The Book of First Peter is a letter to people who were struggling and suffering. Peter was writing to help them reset their hope on something that would buoy them through their difficulties. He was giving them hope in a Person who they could not see.

In one sense, he was saying what Andy was saying to Red: there is something out there that is real, and though you can’t see it, you can hope in it. This worldview is also what Peter is saying to us. As followers of Jesus Christ, we can live differently than the average person. We do this because we have a living hope made possible by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

The people Peter was writing to were living with no power to change things. Hateful people were killing many of his friends. Hunger and other heartaches were abounding. Peter desired to point them to something that was more significant than the life reversals they were experiencing. There is a living hope, and he wanted them to know Him and trust Him.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Hope’s Transcendence

Though your life may be disappearing beyond your grasp, you have a hope that outlasts this life because the life to come is what anchors it. All hope except for “hope in Christ” dies.

  • Your job will end.
  • Your children will die.
  • Your marriage will end.
  • You will die.

Though it may be too dramatic or morbid to think about right now, you know that death kills all earthly hopes. You need an eternal and living faith. I’m not saying you should dismiss human hopes. I hope to have a job, a spouse, children, and a long life. I have many sublunary hopes, and I would recommend you build your list too. Always hope. Don’t ever stop hoping.

While it is excellent to have lesser hopes, you must “hitch all of those hopes” to the living hope that you have in Christ. If not, emptiness and endless chasing for the pot of gold at the end of the mythical rainbow will characterize your life. You will be frustrated, and your friends will be exasperated. Living hope is different. You anchor it in the future that God has prepared for you. That kind of hope will radically shape the life you are living now.

Joy and Suffering

Though you may not be able to figure out what you are going through today, and it may not make a lot of sense to you, if your ultimate hope is in God Almighty, you have a vision that pierces the darkness of your trials. Biblical hope does that for you.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).

The word grieved in this text is the same word used for grief or sorrow during the Savior’s anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. Notice the juxtaposition of “grief and joy” in this text. While you are crying out in times of trials, you’re also able to be buoyed by the hope you have in Christ. An authentic, persevering Christian experiences a filling of real joy—though subdued—while going through real trials.

Our non-Christian friends cannot possibly understand or experience what I’m saying. Their hope is always in a circumstance, an event, or a person other than Christ. They can never move beyond the disappointment that their self-limiting faith brings them.

Unleashing the Joy

A Christian is given a heart by God where he can experience sorrow and joy at the same time without blowing apart. The reason this is so is the resurrection of Jesus. Sorrow is not the end for the Christian but rather the means that drives the believer into Christ—assuming the Christian has a living hope. It is the sorrow that activates and unleashes the joy. When the heat of life cranks up in a Christian’s life, there is an unleashing of refreshing hope in Christ.

Hope is like a thermostat that cools down the Christian while the non-Christian responds with indifference or anger, which is how Red “managed his mind.” His hope was not in Christ, thus relegating himself to humanistic methods to protect himself from the ongoing disappointment surrounding him.

God is calling you to run headlong into the hope that you have in Christ, which is where you will find healing, joy, growth, and strength (John 15:5). This perspective is the positive side of trials—to teach you to run to the hope that you will only find in Jesus.

We Hurt and Rejoice More

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

  • The Christian experiences sadness more deeply than the average person.
  • The Christian experiences joy more deeply than the average person.

The Christian understands “pain and suffering” more broadly because he understands the fall of humanity, the death of Christ, and the redemption of individuals more fully. The Christian has a “sound theology of suffering.” He is not perplexed by trials. He understands why there is suffering. He expects to suffer. And he endures through the pain.

The worldly man will deny pain, run from pain, and ignore pain while blaming others for the pain. The Christian lives in a fuller reality of life. Though Christ was in the deepest of agonies in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, He also experienced a seemingly incomprehensible hope. There was a joy “set before Him” that gave Him the strength to endure the most profound agonies known to man. The Christian who has his hope in Christ will be able to not only experience the depths of personal suffering but will also experience an inexpressible joy that is full of glory (1 Peter 1:8).

Call to Action

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

There was no joy “set before” Red, which is why he angrily fought off the hope that Andy was telling him. For Red, that kind of dream would drive him insane. For Andy, hope was his redemption. What kind of hope do you have?

  1. Is Christ your hope? It’s a straightforward question, but for those stuck in the unchangeable situations of life, it’s a more dramatic and complex question that causes pause before answering.
  2. What does practical hope in Christ look like for you? Is there something you need to address about how you hope in Christ?
  3. Perhaps the relentless hurt of your situation has moved you toward Red’s kind of self-protective thinking. If so, I appeal to you to reach out to someone so you can move toward Andy’s hope. In the Christian case, it’s the hope we have in Christ that pulls us beyond the daily management that our troubles can hold over our lives.

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