Sometimes, I find it hard to remain totally committed to hope when a cursory look around provides plenty of reasons to despair. Thankfully, I am totally committed to hope. When I wrote Look on the Bright Side (which appears in The Listening Book) I was trying to nail my colours to the mast, the reasoning being that if I publicly put my beliefs on paper then I can’t really give up without looking like a hypocrite. That’s one way to make pride work for you.
It gets tricky when I’m going through the ‘discouragement/despair’ phase of my quarterly cycle (don’t feel bad for me, I’m improving. It used to be a weekly cycle), but as G.K. Chesterton said, “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all… As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”
This morning I was reading Psalm 12. The first two verses resonated with me:
Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.
There’s a fellow pessimist at work right there. But, like me, the author was committed to hope precisely when things seemed hopeless. Having started with the bad news, he goes on to finish with the good news – a commitment to hope:
You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honoured by the human race.
It’s the same in the following Psalm, which starts with the line “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me for ever?” and finishes a mere five verses later with “I will sing to the LORD, for he had been good to me.”
In other words, all those hundreds of years ago, things were the same as they were today. There were plenty of things to get discouraged about, and plenty of opportunities to throw our hands up in the air and say, “What are you doing, God?” but hope meant then – as it does now – ending your Psalm with a statement of trust and faith. And over all those hundreds of years, God has remained faithful and at work. Hope means being committed to this, even when the surrounding evidence contradicts it.