The Rev. Dr. Mark R. Wenger

The Rev. Dr. Mark R. Wenger

Hope is faith leaning toward the future.

But dystopian books are selling fast right now. “1984” by George Orwell and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood are best-sellers at Amazon. Dystopia is the opposite of hope; it envisions life in an unpleasant or frightening place.

Apocalypse appears to be a rhetorical cousin of dystopia: Dystopia portrays a dark, forbidding future; apocalypse conjures up images from the end of the world.

But linguistically, apocalypse simply means, “an uncovering, a revealing.” Revelation — literally, apocalypse — is the last book in the Bible. Its main message is that, despite present appearances, good will prevail and defeat evil. God wins in the end.

In what follows, I offer a brief meditation on hope. Whether you are distressed with life and recent events in America, or are rejoicing at the changes underway and what they mean for you, hope is essential for living forward.

Real hope, I contend, is rooted in God. Hope is a spiritual gift and virtue more than a human achievement.

How do we position ourselves to receive God’s gift of hope? I suggest four postures. The first letter of each makes an acrostic — HOPE.

Hold on to the promises of God.

Hebrew and Christian Scripture reveal a God who makes promises. The big word is covenant. God shows up to Abraham and Sarah and offers a covenant. It’s not the product of complex negotiation. There’s no long list of conditions. Just an invitation and a promise.

God’s covenant in Jesus Christ follows the same formula: God loved the world; God gave his only son, Jesus, not to condemn, but to save. Whoever believes in Jesus won’t perish, but will find life full and eternal.

At the core, God’s covenants are acts of generosity and commitment. Think of it: sovereign God binding himself to creation.

The choice is ours: Will we accept the promise? Will we believe God? Will we place our trust in God? The covenant-making God is an eternal promise-keeping God.

Obey God and walk in his ways.

Living our lives according to the values and standards that God provides in Scripture is another way of planting ourselves where hope can sprout.

Imagine a birdwatcher who wants to catch sight of a rare bird. Only the foolish go crashing loudly through the bushes or splashing through marsh. The bird will be long gone.

But the wise obey the rhythms and the patterns of the forest or the wetland. The wise move in sync with the surroundings and will be much more likely to be rewarded with the prize.

The words of a poem by Emily Dickinson come to mind:

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.”

Participate in the hope of others.

It is almost impossible to be hopeful very long all by yourself. We need others to give birth to hope. We need each other to sustain hope in dystopian times.

Confession: I’m not a fan or consumer of social media. But it seems to me that finding hope in the company of others can be one of the benefits of connectivity.

I work for a small seminary. I once heard a story from another small seminary. The wife of one of the professors died tragically. In the days and weeks that followed, the professor lost his bearings. He could not pray, could not teach, could not hope.

Some of his colleagues came to him and gently said: “We will pray for you, we will have faith for you, we will hope for you.” Each day someone visited. Gradually, life, faith and hope sprouted again, and he returned to teaching.

Exchange the love of things for love in relationships.

Several years ago researcher George Vaillant published findings of a long-running study of human development. The so-called Grant Study followed 268 graduates from Harvard University for 75 years in an effort to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.

The major take-away from the huge study, according to Vaillant, was that “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

Put another way, “the Grant Study points …to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ ”

Hope is bigger, richer, deeper than positive thinking or optimism. Hope is the precious gift of God that better things are yet to come. Hope is faith leaning obediently with others into a future that God promises.

The Rev. Dr. Mark R. Wenger is director of pastoral studies for Eastern Mennonite University at Lancaster. He also is a correspondent for LNP. Email:  wengermr@emu.edu