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Lately I have been thinking about hope—optimism, pessimism, despair, depression, apathy, forward thinking, and the like. So many things can make us feel hopeful or hopeless, and many of us find our feelings rising and
falling with the latest news, the political fortunes of a preferred candidate, what happens at work or school, or our personal circumstances. While such changes are rather normal, negativity seems to linger, especially since some appear to promote a gloomy and cynical view; this is especially the case in politics and ideology
supported by the media.

A Christian lives in a tension between what I think of as spiritual hope and earthly hope, of what God has promised for eternity and what He has
promised for this life. I recently posted a summary of the Christian
doctrine of hope, anchored in the resurrection of Jesus, which we
commemorate on Easter Sunday and, in a sense, every Sunday.
For a true believer, this hope supports us through all the worst
events of life including death. Confident expectation of life beyond
this present existence and death itself allows Christians to
persevere through the hard times, even if we may still feel sadness,
grief, or a measure of fear. My concern is that, living in the
present moment and cultural circumstances, negativity may intrude too
strongly into our outlook. I believe there are things we can do to
offset that influence.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within
me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and
my God
.”—Psalm 42:11

We should never despair, our situation before has been
unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will
again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new
exertions and proportion our efforts to the exigency of the
times
.”—George Washington

By temperament,
I am basically an optimist. In general, I tend to expect things to
work out well, some how. My faith in God is the rational element of
my outlook, but by nature I am really a glass-half-full kind of
person, despite something of a melancholy temperament. Yet, if I
listen to all the gloom and pessimism so prevalent in 21st
century America, I find myself becoming cynical and fearful for the
future. Like modern-day snake oil salesmen, both politicians and
alarmists prey on our fears, distort the facts, and even lie to gain
support for their agendas. As important as dealing effectively with
terrorism is, many groups willingly mislead people about matters that
are already sufficiently worrisome. Issues like energy, pollution,
immigration, and the economy each raise the possibility of disaster
without people working to create even more fear. For many, financial
ruin is a close as the next paycheck, making money news a perpetual
source of anxiety, whether it’s the mortgage crisis, the condition
of the stock market, or inflation.

I’m not sure
which is worse—people who live in constant fear or people who take
no interest in the world beyond their own immediate gratification.
Here I want to discuss hopelessness and despair, although those who
thoughtlessly assume that their good times will roll on without
threat often become the most hopeless when their reality pulls their
head out of the sand. Neither mindless optimism nor cynical fatalism
represents realistic lifestyles; both tend to encourage passivity,
doing nothing. I believe there is a better way: 1)
to work toward solutions, 2) to work together and help each other,
and 3) to trust God for the final outcome
. “Even youths
grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who
hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings
like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not
be faint
” (Isaiah 40:30-31). This is living with
hope
.

Unfortunately,
it’s hard to “soar like an eagle” when the turkeys work so hard
to get you down. Those who want to control our lives through
government are usually negative, depressing, and hopeless…apart
from their socialist solutions (as if there has ever been a happy
socialist country). Their bleak nagging seeks to foster acceptance
of their liberty-limiting programs and regulations; then people will
vote for them, give them money, and accept their dire view of the
world. They would happily assume responsibility for irresponsible
individuals since it is their road to power.

On the other
“side”, those who believe, supposedly, in law, liberty, family,
and God seem just as negative, depressing, and hopeless. Apart from
Rush Limbaugh’s virtually solitary voice, the message seems to be,
“We are doomed.” They seem to think that the other side is too
strong, too sneaky, too wealthy, too persuasive, and too numerous and
the common folk simply too stupid to recognize the problem. We must
share their dire view of a world controlled by the Left, vote for
them, and give them money. I tend to agree more with their
assessment, although some of them are just as interested in power,
but I object to their ubiquitous, humorless pessimism.

The media have
always preferred to report bad news. Bad news sells, which tells us
something about ourselves, the readers, listeners, and viewers of
news. I sometimes wonder if they report news even more darkly in
order to increase their audience and sales. Today, the MSN (main
stream media) clearly lean toward the big government, pro-socialist
side of things, so their already negative “reporting”
pushes a dark, depressing, and hopeless view that steers people
toward socialism and away from freedom, individuality, and
self-reliance.

Trying to stay
informed and involved threatens to overwhelm me with hopelessness,
and I see a similar effect on my friends and family. Constant “bad
news” is depressing. While bad things do happen even to nice
people—a puzzle to most of us—living in despair is unhealthy and
counter-productive. It plays into the agendas of the naysayers.
Joyless cynicism and hopeless unhappiness are bad for human beings;
for Christians, who believe in a sovereign, loving God who gave us
the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, they are just plain wrong!

Back in the 50’s
and 60’s, during the early days of the Cold War, I was too young to
be afraid, despite the talk of atomic bombs, fall-out shelters, and
preparations for the worst. The Cuban Missile Crisis took us to the
brink, perhaps closer than many of us realized at the time. Nikita
Khrushchev promised, “We will bury you.”
Instead, the Soviet Union fell apart, the United States won the Cold
War, and not a single nuclear weapon was used.

Back in the 70’s, during the days of the hapless Jimmy Carter
Presidency, I remember trying to accept the possibility of a vastly
different kind of life in the United States than the one I enjoyed.
Double digit inflation, sky-rocketing gas prices, price controls, and
long lines at the pumps, along with “inflation is your fault”
speeches of Carter
,
made a bleak future seem imminent. In a way, I could see Carter’s
point. Prices increased, workers demanded more money, companies
increased prices to pay them, and prices increased further. Then as
now, our energy future seemed to be in the hands of those who
despised us, “experts” told us that oil was going to run
out within a decade or two at the most, and a future without the
convenience of the automobile seemed likely. Of course, oil didn’t
run out, prices dropped dramatically after Reagan removed the price
controls, oil didn’t run out, and a booming prosperity returned for
over 30 years. It’s interesting to note that people once feared the
end of the modern world with the prospect of running out of whale
oil; that fear ended with the advent of petroleum, the lost of which
threatens us today.

I have spent a number of my adult years among Christians who see
Armageddon, just around the corner. Back in college (late 60’s,
early 70’s), a much loved Sunday School teacher asked how many of
us felt the Lord might return before the end of the century,
perhaps even the end of the decade. Many in the group thought He
might, but I didn’t. I wasn’t citing any particular Bible verse
or concept; I just didn’t feel that He would. I recall a
young friend of mine, not especially devout, gaining an unusual
interest in Bible prophecy during the first Gulf War, even as the
sale of prophecy books increased for a time. At the onset of the
second millennium, a new generation of believers thought that the
“end was near,” yet here we are, 8 years later.

Today, we seem to be moving in another gloomy cycle with many
expressing deep concerns about the future of the United States
economy. The control of oil is in the hand so those who hate the
United States, our leaders refuse to tap our own abundant reserves,
and we are funding massively the agendas of our enemies. Perhaps
another crop of Bible teachers are warning of the Lord’s imminent
return or the nearness of the last battle. Are they right? I don’t
know, but I don’t think we should give them too much of our
attention. Jesus plainly taught that no human knows God’s
timetable. Consider this analogy. If you were on a ship, it was
sinking far from shore, and you had no lifeboats, what would you say?
What would you do? Warning the passengers that the ship is going
down and most will drown would surely create fear and panic, but I
doubt it would lead to a greater number being rescued. It would be
better to do everything possible to keep the boat afloat, help
passengers find some way to survive, and look for whatever positive
encouragement to give, the better to see as many people saved as
possible.

In our current situation, or in any time of potential difficulty, I
believe three things offer the greatest potential for deliverance
and survival
. First, take personal responsibility for
yourself and work hard to make the best of your situation
.
Second, do everything you can do to work with and to help your
family, friends, and neighbors
. Finally, put your
trust in God and not in government for “hope and a future

(Jeremiah 29:11).
In general, a productive attitude is to plan sensibly for the
worst
, work hard to prevent it, and hope for the best.

Many of the bad things people fear never happen. Worry saps
emotional and physical energy with no productive benefit; in fact,
worry undermines fruitful activity with often incapacitating anxiety.
People worry so much they cannot function. That is the danger of
listening too much to those who make dire predictions, especially
those involving circumstances beyond our influence or control.
Negativity creates mountains of difficulty that no ordinary mortal
could possibly move and, thus, produces a sense of powerlessness to
which the only response is likely to be, “Woe is me!” Doing so
encourages people to consider the promises of the big government,
we-know-how-to-fix-it crowd. It also promotes an “Eat, drink, and
be merry for tomorrow we die” attitude of hopeless
irresponsibility, producing more “victims” who wait impotently
for someone else to fix everything.

Worry is close kin to cowardice. People who agonize over every
threat to their future are often afraid to try to create their own
opportunities. The United States arose from people who fled less
than ideal circumstances to make a better life for themselves in a
new place. They faced far greater obstacles than most today—a
dangerous ocean voyage, totally primitive conditions, dangers to life
and limb, and no 40 hour work weeks, paid vacations, health
insurance, or even hospitals or doctors. All they wanted was the
freedom to worship freely and create a better life, and they
succeeded, though many failed along the way, at a time when failure
often meant death.

When “Y2K” was the threat, people stored food and water and
prepared to manage without many modern conveniences. I heard someone
suggesting that risks on the horizon warrant similar planning today.
I believe that “planning for the worst” justifies emergency
preparedness, all the time. The worst disasters are typically
unexpected; being ready any time is wise.

The same might be said financially. Savings, diversified
investments, money secured in gold or property all are sensible
compared to the spend-every-penny and borrow-to-your-limit mentality
prevalent today. Will the American dollar continue to spiral into
the cellar? Is America’s future mortgaged to its enemies? Do we
face a future with severely limited energy capacity? Like more
physical threats, such as Islamic terrorism or nuclear war, some
problems poorly addressed may lead to an unpleasant future. Besides
taking personal responsibility for one’s own property, family, and
finances, we should also seek sensible solutions for our shared
problems.

Right now, most of our leaders seem to prefer big government
socialism that gives them power with a concomitant loss of personal
liberty for the rest of us. Sadly, citizens seem willing to accept
or are too naïve to reject their utopian promises, promises that
history has shown to be impossible to keep. As places like India and
Ireland, Russia and China, and even African nations are learning the
lessons of capitalism, many in our country seem willing to abandon
them. Many of those places might be forgiven their desperate but
idealistic attempt at utopia; here people seem to be driven by guilt
or shame regarding their prosperity to destroy it.

Wise people make plans to survive while the foolish wait for their
doom. Will the future require sacrifice, hard work, or accepting
less? It might. Will a less prosperous future be better or worse
for worrying about it? For many, it will be worse. Which is the
less desirable? Would you rather plan and work only to find you have
more than you need, or do nothing and end up in dire straits? Is a
bleak future inevitable? Some would have you think so, but in my
experience few dreadful predictions ever come to pass. Often, the
worst situations were unexpected.

Besides avoiding paralysis that prevents effort, we need to recognize
that any future will be more bearable if faced with people beside
you. Life is less about material wealth than it is about social
wealth. Even in prosperity, many live impoverished lives because
they live them alone. Too many people immerse themselves in job and
career, supposedly for their loved ones, thinking that the money they
earn is the greatest need. The greatest need of loved ones and
oneself is in loving and being loved.

My childhood was anything but financially prosperous, but I never
imagined that I was poor. I didn’t know if we were lower middle
class or upper lower class. I know my parents began married life
with a card table and milk crates to sit on. I usually had two sets
of school clothes, one to wear and one being washed, and hand-me-down
Sunday clothes. When my Dad died, our family with 3 minor children
may have had more to live on through social security and veteran
benefits than from my father’s income. Yet, I was surrounded by
immediate and extended family and family friends. Eating at
McDonalds was a treat, and Friday nights were often spent with
whoever played cards with my folks. It was a good life, not a poor
one, regardless of finances.

My parents gardened, my mother canned and froze produce, and she made
a lot of our clothes. She cooked, baked cookies, and enabled my
Dad’s small salary to stretch to make a life for us. Was that life
less than the kind many live now? Some would probably think so, but
I think the emotionally isolated, morally bankrupt lives of many
people today are the poorer.

In 1978, our area experienced a true blizzard, something I had never
seen before. No one could go anywhere for several days, and it took
several more to dig out. The power went out at the start and stayed
out for 3 days in bitter cold and high winds. I was living at home,
and my Mom, brothers, and I ended up at a neighbor’s house, where
they burned wood for heat. I think about 20 neighbors stayed
together in that small house, melted water for cooking, washing, and
flushing the toilet, and found ways to amuse ourselves in the dark,
when we didn’t have work to do. It was one of the best experiences
of my life!

Through crises, calamities, and disasters we often hear that same
story. War produces some of the closest friendships. That’s not a
recommendation for war but of friendship. We can face anything if we
face it together, if we work together, if we help each other,
especially if we do so with a lively hope anchored in God, who say,
Those who hope in me will not be
disappointed
” (Isaiah 49:23c).

Some would say faith comes first, not last. Trusting God is the
first step and the most important. However, putting one’s hope in
God is not a passive thing. “Not only so, but we also
rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces
perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope
does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our
hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us
” (Romans
5:3-5). For many Christians, I wonder if they “Let go and let
God,” thinking that it is all His to do. I don’t believe it is.
We are not helpless!
It seems to me that some Christians use their “hope” as an
excuse not to try. I have never been comfortable with the notion
that God designed us to work and then expects us not to work but let
him do everything. I have been equally uncomfortable with those who
teach that the word “I” is all ego and should always be replaced
with God or Jesus.

The issue isn’t human pride, in the sense that we deny God’s
creative work, design, or enabling. I don’t want believers to
enthrone themselves over their own lives or the lives of others, but
neither do I believe God expects us to have no self-identity, which I
see as a rejection of His creative work in each of us. He made you,
and He made me; we ought not to repudiate what He has made. I don’t
believe He rejects our effort; He merely wants us to channel it into
His will and work in the light of His wisdom.

In that light, our efforts do not depend only on our labor, and they
are not necessarily limited by the circumstances around us, however
desperate they may seem. The Creator is not bound by His creation,
except by His choice. We need to set our sights higher than human
wisdom or man-made limitations. He may not work a miracle on our
behalf, or He may. This world has few miracles available except what
comes by wisdom, planning, hard work, and what we may do for each
other, or as Psalm 33:17 says, “A horse is a vain hope for
deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.”

Our hope is a comprehensive thing, a combination of spiritual truth
and enabled earthly effort. I believe we must fight as hard as our
forefathers to protect our heritage, preserve our freedom, keep
ourselves safe, and provide for our livelihood if not our prosperity.
That requires personal, individual planning and effort,
unencumbered by paralyzing despair. We must work together and watch
out for each other, neither trusting ourselves to the government or
acting too strongly for ourselves alone. Finally, we need to put our
ultimate trust in God, seeking His wisdom and relying on His
providential protection and provision. By these choices, we can not
just feel hope but act hopefully.

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