Just a little heads-up in the beginning to let you know that this post is a bit different from my usual fare. Once in a while, major transitional events throw me into a contemplative mood, and this is one of those times. We’re wrapping up one of the most politically tumultuous years in my lifetime, and one that witnessed a powerful repudiation of some of the most egregious ‘upside down thinking’ ever to plague this great republic. In the aftermath of all that, a powerful concept has garnered some unexpected national attention in the past month or so, and since it will touch all of our lives one way or another in the year to come, I’d like to share a few thoughts about it.
As a general rule, I approach the conclusions of pollsters with great caution and abundant skepticism, especially when their work is focused on issues affecting views and trends in Christianity and/or conservatism in general. Regardless, it’s interesting to note that a number of them have commented lately on the resurgence of hope and optimism in the land, and the consensus is that since the election, there is more of both than we have seen nationally for decades. So, while the unrelenting clocks consume the remaining vestiges of 2016, let me suggest squeezing in a few minutes of quiet reflection focused on the intriguing phenomenon we call, ‘hope’.
How Do You Picture Something Like That?
A nineteenth-century artist named George Frederic Watts produced an unusual painting that gained him a considerable degree of notoriety. As you can see, the painting depicts a lone female figure sitting on a globe. The colors are dull and the background is virtually blank, with only a single star in the somewhat gloomy blue backdrop. The woman is slouched to one side, blindfolded, and holding a lyre that only has one string remaining on it. Watts’ title for the painting confused many, angered some, and intrigued others. He simply called it, “Hope”.
In his struggle with how to describe such a subject, Watts joined legions of theologians, philosophers, and thinkers of every ilk who have wrestled with it. One of the great Christian thinkers and philosophers of the past century, G.K. Chesterton, gave a profound assessment of Watts’ work by describing what a man might ultimately conclude as he stands before the picture and strives to understand its meaning in reference to its title.
Chesterton Describes It This Way ~
“Standing before that picture he finds himself in the presence of a great truth. He perceives that there is something in man which is always apparently on the eve of disappearing, but never disappears, an assurance which is always apparently saying farewell and yet illimitably lingers, a string which is always stretched to snapping and yet never snaps. He perceives that the queerest and most delicate thing in us, the most fragile, the most fantastic, is in truth the backbone and indestructible. He knows a great moral fact: that there never was an age of assurance, that there never was an age of faith. Faith is always at a disadvantage; it is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all its conquerors. The desperate modern talk about dark days and reeling altars, and the end of Gods and angels, is the oldest talk in the world: lamentations over the growth of agnosticism can be found in the monkish sermons of the dark ages; horror at youthful impiety can be found in the Iliad. This is the thing that never deserts men and yet always, with daring diplomacy, threatens to desert them.”
The Journey Begins ~
The year that is about to begin the journey that we are compelled to take along with it will see the status of many of our hopes in much the same way as Chesterton described it, a thing in constant threat, sometimes dying, and yet emerging again to prove its unstoppable resurrection. Some will see their hopes dashed to pieces and fall on their knees in abject despair. Others will exult in praise because some cherished hope is finally fulfilled. In both cases, there’s a vacuum left that will not be tolerated, and some new hope will be resurrected to fill the space. This intolerance of hope’s final demise in this life is a gift to us by a loving Creator, who foresaw the chaos our fallen nature would produce, and knew what would happen if this simple but eternally expansive idea were snatched away from us altogether.
A Different Kind of Hope ~
In light of all that, He provided a source of hope that exceeds anything that might be attained on this planet, and that supersedes and overcomes any loss we might endure. That hope is irrevocably and eternally interwoven in the DNA of that personal relationship with Him, freely offered through simple faith in Jesus Christ. Every other hope we have as we begin 2017 is subject to annihilation from any one of a thousand unanticipated attacks, but that one we have in Him cannot die, because Jesus killed every possible threat against it with His last breath on the cross. Then on Easter morning, He sealed it in place forever.
Michelle Obama remarked recently that America is facing a time of hopelessness. That’s doubtlessly true for some, and perhaps that’s true for her; I don’t know. What I do know is that it need not be for you, or anyone else. I can think of no better wish or prayer for each of us, and no more fitting words to leave you with in 2016 than these:
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 NKJV).
To you, dear readers, we extend warm wishes for a very Happy and ‘HOPE-FILLED’ New Year!
© 2016 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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Pastor Ron, my dear friend and co-laborer, I finally got around to reading the article (blog?) on HOPE. I am so filled with HOPE and ANTICIPATION as we face a new year of service to the Lord Jesus at Forest Hill Baptist. You and Diane have been a big part of the rebuilding of hope and joy at the church. Our people are positive about the future, and that is a blessing. Love you, brother.
We began 2016 with a lot of challenges and a lot of questions. We were absolutely dependent on God’s direction and His provision, and confident that He would give it. You and Cindy are the answer to so many of our prayers, and the fulfillment of our hope at that point for Forest Hill’s future. I would have been overjoyed at seeing Him do what He did, even if it didn’t include the blessing of adding a set of names to our ‘very special friends’ list. You guys will always be more than just colleagues in the work, and I look forward to the times of fellowship that we will get to insert in the year to come. Like you, Diane and I have great hope for the days ahead in spite of the tests and challenges that always come. By the way– I’m honored that you read my stuff. Thank you for that, and thank you again for the music and other resources you graciously shared with us since we met.