The Meaning of Hope

When you acquired your first car, started a new job, or first fell in love, you had hope. It wasn’t just a car, but an expression of independence. It wasn’t just a job, but a better income or career. It wasn’t just about a person, but a loving, enduring relationship.

Yet hope can let you down. Let me take you back to 1971 during the Vietnam War, when John Lennon released the song “Imagine.” He imagined “all the people living for today.” He hoped away countries, religions, and possessions in order to usher in world peace and eliminate greed and hunger. It was one of the most popular songs of the twentieth century, but it produced nothing for which Lennon hoped. We still yearn for peace and human flourishing.

What’s the point of hope when it fails to produce the ideal? How do we make sense of it, when the idea of the thing is better than the thing itself, as happens so often? C. S. Lewis offers answers in Mere Christianity. He uses the examples of marriage, vacations, and learning. Even if the wife is pleasant, the hotels and scenery excellent, and the career in pharmacy interesting, “something has evaded us,” he writes.

He offers three possible responses. The “Fool’s Way” is to blame the thing. Get a new wife or try a more expensive trip and maybe you’ll catch this elusive sense of satisfaction that beckons you. The “Sensible Man” decides that such passions are the idealism of youth. He gives up on hope and just settles down to boredom.

The third response is the “Christian Way.” Humans are born with longings, some of which are fulfilled. But “if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,” Lewis writes, “the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Your unrequited hopes point to something deeper, your true country, which you find by faith in Christ. Such is the meaning of hope.

“I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus said, “and you know the way” (John 14).

The Hug

“He could have seen me as trying to throw a punch,” Isaiah Jarvis said about approaching the mound during a Little League playoff game. But that was not his intention. Not at all.

Kaiden Shelton threw the pitch that hit Isaiah in the head. Isaiah collapsed at the plate, mainly due to the shock. But the ball had glanced off his helmet, and he realized he was not hurt. After he made his way to first base, he noticed the pitcher Kaiden struggling to collect himself. “I see Kaiden getting emotional so I tossed my helmet to the side,” Isaiah said. He walked to the mound and gave Kaiden a hug saying, “Hey, you’re doing great!” He later explained, “I was trying to spread Jesus’ love and do what He would do in that situation.”

Wow. Think maybe we adults could learn something from “the hug felt ‘round the world”?  Isaiah’s coach Sean Couplen thinks so. He reflected on the incident going viral. “I believe what we are seeing is that our world is tired of divisiveness,” he said. “Friendship and caring trump competition.”

What you see happening between these young men is a display of empathy. Isn’t that part of Jesus’ radical ethic, to “treat people the same way you want them to treat you,” and “love your neighbor as yourself”? (Matt. 7:12, 22:39) To do these, you must at least try to imagine what people are going through, sense what they feel and need, and react to their concerns. Sometimes more is needed than just “shake it off,” or “he’ll get over it.”

People are more important than competition. Business can take a lesson here. Making a sale cannot be more important than treating people with fairness, honesty, and integrity.

“That’s really the main take of all this,” Isaiah said about his moment in the spotlight. “Just treat others how you want to be treated.”  You may not yet embrace the Christian faith but surely you can agree that when it teaches young men to live like this, everyone benefits. Isaiah shows empathy. Be like Isaiah.

But To Minister

Twin girls born in rural South Georgia during the depression years didn’t have many advantages. But someone took the words of Jesus seriously – and impacted generations.

The physician attending their home birth did not believe the tiny babies would survive. But they did, and at age 15 placed first in their high school graduating class. A librarian who was impressed with their potential and knew their circumstances suggested they apply to Berry College.

Martha Berry’s life spanned the years from the Civil War to WWII. Moved by the plight of children of poor landowners and tenant farmers, she began a Sunday school class on the family property near Rome, GA. That led to her opening first a boarding school for high school education, then Berry College. She offered the opportunity for students to work and earn their tuition, room, and board while receiving an education. She was not offering a handout but rather the dignity of serving others. They farmed, cleaned, and cooked for fellow students and staff.

Berry adopted the motto, “Not to be ministered unto but to minister.” This expression is taken from an exchange between Jesus and the sons of Zebedee. They wanted Him to make them privileged leaders. “You do not know what you’re asking,” He replied. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” That idea is at the core of the Christian gospel. “For even the Son of man (Jesus) came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:35-45, KJV). Berry understood that following Jesus means sacrifice and service to others.

In 1950, the teenaged twins took the Nancy Hanks train to Atlanta where they boarded a bus to Rome. Despite intense homesickness, they endured and earned college degrees. One of those girls is my mother. At Berry College, she met my father. With college degrees in hand, the newlyweds began their careers and later their family. Berry’s impact to their children and successive generations was not just to elevate their economic class. It was the legacy of service to others, as taught and modeled by our Savior.

Martha Berry never married. She dedicated her treasure, land, and life to serve others. It was a simple gesture when she sat down with a few poor kids to teach them Bible stories. She couldn’t have known how that one act of obedience would change not only their lives, but hers also.

Here is your takeaway. If you want to live a meaningful life and leave a generational legacy as a powerful rejoinder to our era’s unapologetic selfishness, then believe and follow Jesus. That means living by His words, “not to be ministered unto but to minister.”

Believing Is Seeing

Dr. Michael Guillen was the ABC News Science Editor (1988-2002). He earned a rare 3D Ph.D. from Cornel in physics, mathematics and astronomy. What he learned as a scientist led him to believe in God and become a Christian. He writes about it in his book, Believing Is Seeing.

Guillen’s first belief was in science. While at Cornel, he began to seek answers for universal, ultimate questions. He and fellow student Lauren, also an atheist, looked for answers in the Bible. “It reminded me immediately,” he writes, “of what I’d been learning in quantum physics.” He explains that quantum physics defies logic but it’s not nonsense. “I recognized the possibility that the New Testament was translogical (a truth that’s not logical) – like quantum physics it was signaling profundity.”

He began to ask specific questions of science and worldview. Does absolute truth exist? Are there truths that cannot be proven? Is the universe designed for life? He found that the atheistic worldview is opposed to science. But despite the popular notion that science contradicts faith, he found that the Christian worldview and science agree on the answers.

After 20 years of exploring science and world religions, Guillen came to a personal decision, which remained private until a stunning moment on live TV. A panel was discussing Sir Ian Wilmut’s cloning of a sheep named Dolly, and the implications for humans. The show host Charlie Gibson called for final thoughts. “Well, Charlie, I’m concerned that Wilmut’s cloning technique might one day be used to clone a human being,” Guillen said. “It worries me not just as a scientist, but as a scientist who happens to believe in God.” He couldn’t believe he just “outed” himself on national television, but the response of his viewers was encouraging.

A near-tragic incident affirmed Guillen’s faith. He joined an expedition to visit the Titanic wreck resting miles below the surface – even though he suffered from hydrophobia (fear of water). As they circled the wreck, a current thrust their vessel into the Titanic’s propeller. They were stuck and his phobia began to emerge. Then “something happened that’s difficult to describe,” he writes. “It was as if an invisible presence had entered the sub. At the same time, an uncanny and unheralded sensation of peace washed over me.” After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot freed the sub and they returned safely.

Later Guillen and Lauren (now his wife), read these words: “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me” (Psa. 139). “I experienced that psalm,” Guillen remembers, “God’s presence and peace, right when I was resigned to kissing my life good-bye.”