This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

No Hope

NPR recently reported that life expectancy in the U.S. has dropped for a second straight year, a rare occurrence even for a single year. The report cited three reasons for the on-going decline: accelerating deaths from opioid abuse, increased alcohol-related deaths, and a rise in suicides.

Economist Anne Case calls these "deaths of despair," explaining, "So we think of it all being signs that something is really wrong and whatever it is that's really wrong is happening nationwide." She continues, "The decline of well-paying jobs with significant yearly salary increases, job security and good benefits may be fueling a sense of frustration and hopelessness. . . . That may be one reason fewer people are getting married and more people are having children outside of marriages." Her remarks conclude, "It may be the deaths from drugs, from suicide, from alcohol are related to the fact that people don't have the stability and a hope for the future that they might have had in the past."

Her analysis is insightful, but she fell short of identifying the real problem. Her final statement is true, but the root of hopelessness goes deeper than the external factors of job and family. People lack stability and hope because they are trying to live life and define success apart from God.

Modern America has no hope because it has abandoned the source of hope. By and large, Americans have ignored God at best, and at worst have outright rejected Him. Society is fighting to remove God from public arenas, to redefine Him in such a corrupted way that His relevance is lost, and to undermine traditions and lifestyles that are linked to Christianity or the Bible.

Life without God has no real hope. Sometimes life proceeds according to plan, but frequently reality falls short of expectations. The world is imperfect, and people are imperfect; therefore, nothing will match the level of hope, bliss, and anticipation that people desire. Jobs will be stressful, unpredictable, and mundane. Health will falter, and injuries will occur. Marriages will have rocky moments, children will disappoint, and people will be less than ideal. Hope that is dependent on success at work, at home, and personally will be bruised regularly and shattered repeatedly.

There is only one Person who is constantly faithful and consistently positive. God is who He is, and He does what He says He will do. He is always right, always pure, always dependable, always wise, and always a reliable rock on which to lean. Hope in God will not be disappointed.

Hope in God is primarily future-looking rather than present-focused. The greatest cause for hope is the expectation of heaven. "Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13). To someone who does not have that ultimate hope, the disappointments and frustrations of current life can be overwhelming and quite discouraging.

Beyond the eternal aspect, hope in God also looks to the future during difficulty. Trials are a realistic part of life, but someone who believes in God looks forward to God's deliverance and renewal of blessing. "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:13-14).

While the above discussion highlights the necessity of the gospel for those who do not have it, the sad reality is that the statistics cited in the report also include professing Christians. It would be naive and delusional to think that Christians never die from suicide or substance abuse - or to expand the idea of hopelessness, that Christians never get so discouraged and disappointed that they consider such things. Hopelessness can exist without ending in a related loss of life.

How can such a condition exist among Christians? Well, if life without God has no hope, life without God at the center isn't much better. For God to have significant impact on the life, He must be a regular and central focus of that life. Sadly, many who claim Christ as Savior nevertheless hold God at the fringe. They make Him an add-on or afterthought. With lives filled with the same pursuits and ambitions as the unsaved, such Christians face the same discouragements, disappointments, and frustrations. In reality, God has little impact on their lives, and they grant Him little control over their thoughts or daily existence.

Lest my readers dismiss themselves as not falling into that category either, let me challenge each of us to aspire for the best, rather than compare with the worst and thereby decide we are okay. In truth, the more deeply and consistently we connect with God, incorporate Him into our daily lives, and let Him determine how success is defined in our lives, the greater will be our hope.

Even sincere Christians who claim to love God and who are fairly consistent in Christian expectations can easily fall into the trap of looking for hope in the wrong places. They can seek hope in a happy marriage with the right partner, in children whom everyone admires, in a ministry with wide and positive impact, or in many other "successes." For some people, successes in those areas might be pretty consistent, but it is highly unlikely that there will not be failures and disappointments mixed in. If hope is focused on those lesser things without looking ultimately to God, the inevitable disappointments can be devastating, even for a Christian.

A hopeful life is possible, but only when the focus is right. Paul said, "For to me, to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21). "The fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy" (Galatians 5:22). Jesus assured, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). An abundant life of hope and joy is available to the Christian who is fully fixed on God.

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