- Eldon Peterson
Moving from Despair to Hope
Many things in life can tempt us to despair. Maybe we are facing a chronic disease, or have lost our job without any prospects for a new one, or maybe someone has falsely accused us of some wrongdoing. It has been said that, “You are either in a storm, coming out of a storm or headed into a storm.” Where are you in this continuum?
For help we can look to those who have suffered in the Bible. Job sought help from his friends in his despair only to be let down. He tells his friends, “If only you could be silent! That’s the wisest thing you could do.” (Job 13:5) Later he adds, “I have heard all this before. What miserable comforters you are! Won’t you ever stop blowing hot air? What makes you keep on talking?” (Job 16:2-3)
I understand Job’s friends. I too want to bring comfort to those sailing in storms; however, my feeble words can at times increase their pain rather than lessen it. Maybe you have walked with Job and found that the well-meaning words of your friends brought you little or no comfort. Maybe you, like Job, wished they would simply be quiet and listen and pray with you. This is the wisest thing we can do!
As important as a good friend may be in helping us move from despair to hope, the help we need can only come from the Lord. The subtitle of Psalms 102 introduces it by saying, “A prayer by someone who is suffering, when he is weary and pours out his troubles in the Lord’s presence.” As beautiful as these words are, we may be uncertain if the Lord cares for us or if he is even mindful of us. We can falsely assume that our trials are a result of God turning his back on us but nothing could be further from the truth as we learn from Lamentations 3.
Lamentations 3 opens with the author expressing his feeling that the Lord has turned his back on him, treating him as an enemy. He cries out that there is no hope, no escape, “He has walled me in so that I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call our or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.” (3:7-8) Isn’t this the very thought imbedded in our question – “Lord, why have you abandoned me, allowed this evil to happen to me?”
Lamentations likens the Lord to a “bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without hope.” (10-11) He complains that this has resulted in him becoming a laughingstock of all the people by pushing his face into the dirt. Maybe, like the author, “The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.” (19-20)
If we stopped here, we should simply lie down and give up. Maybe you have felt this way, but the story takes a turn allowing us to move from despair to hope by remembering the truths that bring hope! “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:22-26)
Let me ask you a question, “Are your feelings or perceptions infallible?” You need not answer; we all know the answer - NO! Why then are we so slow to acknowledge this? If we allow God’s word to speak to our perceptions, and allow others to speak his truth to us, we are able to find hope in spite of difficult circumstances.
Lamentations offers three truths for us to stand in. First, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Second, His mercies never come to an end. Third, great is His Faithfulness. Thus we can conclude, “Therefore I will hope in him.” (3:24) Could it be any simpler?
So, where can we turn when are tempted by despair? We can turn to the Lord for he alone gives us the hope we need. Not by changing our circumstances, but by giving us a hope that is established in his character not our circumstances!