I’ve always enjoyed music, although I only sing so-low (that people can’t hear me), and the only instruments I’ve ever played were the drums, in high school and college. (I still play the steering wheel if something with a good beat comes on while I’m driving, but Idon’t think that counts.)
Anyway, words of familiar songs often come to mind, even simple ones that carry a good message. One that’s been running through my mind of late is “High Hopes,” a tune from the 1959 film, “A Hole in the Head,” that starred Frank Sinatra. It tells about a “little old ant” trying to move a rubber tree plant and a “silly old ram” trying to punch a hole in a dam. Despite daunting tasks, the song says, they had “high hopes.”
Some people suggest another song, “What the World Needs Now is Love,” the tune by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, but given the chaotic, confused times in which we live, I wonder if what we need even more is “High Hopes.”
A couple of weeks into the new year, we’re still covered with the barrage of negativity. If not for bad news, it seems, there’d be no news at all. I hear dozens of folks in a New England town have already collapsed into a heap of hopeless despair. Things are so bad, in the next rendition of Disney’s “Snow White,” the seven dwarfs will probably sing, “I hope, I hope….”
Unfortunately, high hopes don’t usually supply real reasons for being hopeful. Hope in this life is as reliable as tomorrow’s weather report. The best it can provide is “hope-so”: “Will the United States ever truly be ‘united’ again? Hope so.” “Can life become less stressful? Hope so.” “Are there any real prospects for peace in this world? Hope so.” “Can anyone actually find true love on ‘The Bachelor’? Hope so.”
This desire for hope is often more pragmatic than philosophical. Imagine living in poverty, whether in the inner city or a place like Appalachia, with no prospects of change. How about feeling trapped in a loveless marriage, convinced the old spark will never rekindle. Or lying in a bed, ravaged by a terminal disease, anticipating a future that might not extend beyond tomorrow morning. In such circumstances, even a tiny ray of hope could provide palpable reason to persevere.
But where can we find hope? They don’t stock it on department store shelves or at mall kiosks. Amazon sells lots of things, but not hope. History’s demonstrated we can’t find lasting hope in politics, regardless of our ideology. Science helps us understand “what” and “how,” but has little to say about “why.” Materialism’s many promises tend to be short-lived and empty. Entertainment distracts us momentarily, but can’t release us from uncomfortable realities. Even religion, with its rites, rules and rituals, too often leaves us feeling perplexed and uninspired.
Does this mean there’s no hope for finding real hope?
There is one source, and it’s been available for thousands of years, although many people have chosen to ignore it. To paraphrase yet another song of days gone by, they’re looking for hope in all the wrong places.
Whenever I feel deficient in hope, I turn to the Bible. It shows God fully understands the human need for hope. Proverbs 13:12 observes, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Feelings of hopelessness can debilitate us physically, emotionally and spiritually, but hopes fulfilled reinvigorate. Proverbs 13:19 notes, “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul….”
To satisfy our yearning for hope, the Scriptures point us to a daily, growing relationship with God. The Old Testament’s book of Lamentations assures, "The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord" (Lamentations 3:25). This isn’t “hope-so”; it’s unwavering certainty.
Another meaningful verse was penned by the apostle Paul, addressing followers of Jesus Christ in Rome: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Drawing from his own experience, he told the growing throng of believers in that sprawling city that true hope anchors in everyday faith in the Lord.
Faith – and hope – must be tried and proven. When we place our trust in something, even Jesus, time and perspective reveal whether we were banking on “hope so,” or genuine hope we can cling to with confident assurance.
The ultimate test is the day when life inevitably draws to a close and we must confront the reality of what comes next. Paul referred to this when he wrote to believers in the church of ancient Philippi, “according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).