On a clear summer day, we drove to New York’s Bear Mountain State Park. Our young grandchild would visit us soon, so we checked out the park’s unique merry-go-round pavilion. A cheery, colorful mural depicted the park’s philanthropist and his family leading visitors—including a multitude of children—from New York City on a trek to the summit for a summer picnic. The title of artist Jacques Bartels’ painting? Hope. When that pavilion was dedicated in April 2001, who could have guessed that September’s dreadful events would cause New Yorkers to be in dire need of the very thing the mural sought to portray—refreshment and hope?
Lottery advertisements peddle hope daily, but considering the slim odds, it’s an illogical hope and hardly worth the price. Professional sports offer more hope and better odds for winning, if only vicariously. Unlike cricket, rugby or soccer with their World Cup tournaments every four years, each spring baseball season opens with the World Series just six months away. For baseball fans, hope doesn’t have long to wait. Whether we anticipate our team’s victory in months or years, ever-hopeful fans dream of winning, even when the chances are slim. Non-fans call such hope plain wishful thinking.
A patient adult knows that helping a young child plant and care for seeds for the first time may seem like mere wishful thinking to the tyke until the seedlings start to sprout and grow. It may be weeks before flowers are mature, but watching the transformation of a seed into a plant stimulates hope. When the child picks the flower and her deferred hope is fulfilled, she’s learned a lesson for life.
If we learn from and remember what’s happened in the past we can gain a rational hope for the future. In the days of the former Soviet occupation, Lithuanian Christians displayed symbols of hope. Outside a northern city (Siauliai), crosses appeared on a certain hill. By day, proponents of the atheistic state plowed them down; by night, believers restored crosses to the hill as a silent witness to their hope. We know who won that showdown. Today there are hundreds of thousands of crosses planted on the now famous Hill of Crosses.
Hope exhibited by common people especially encourages us. During adversity—whether from oppression, war’s devastation, imprisonment, natural disasters or other forms of suffering—determined musicians, artists, teachers, pastors and all who tenaciously hold on to beauty and truth inspire hope.
Beyond such encouragement, we can know an enduring hope based on the truth of who God is and what God says. In his book about Paul’s letter to the Romans, More than Conquerors, Milton Agnew comments, “Hope is more than just wishing for. Hope is expectation. Hope takes the promises of faith and appropriates them to oneself.” Hope in Christ and His promises stabilizes us, especially through uncertain times.
In his No Strange Land*, missionary, artist, poet and author Eddie Askew reminds us that the farmer sows in active hope as he works to secure it. It’s that way with Christian hope, too. As Peter says, we are given “…new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3).
Askew says: “And that is why our hope is real and alive—because it springs direct from the living God through whom the hope of harvest and harvest of hope are fulfilled.” He continues in verse:
I hope for hope, Lord.
The seeds of light
Sown in the darkness round your cross,
Germinate, and flower and fruit In the fallow fields of my small life.
My hope starts in your death and resurrection.
Continues in the certainty of your presence.
Fulfills itself in the clear calm confidence of final victory.
For now, I cling to hope’s small seedling.
Vulnerable. Not yet full grown.
Measuring each day
In the new leaves of little victories.
And, help me, Lord, often in small defeats.
But still I cling to hope.
And know you walk with me.
Whether in the daily trudge or during life’s unwelcome upheavals, hope is precious and vital. Is travelling hopefully better than arriving (as Robert Louis Stevenson once suggested)? Perhaps sometimes, in the short term. But the living hope God offers us is superior for life’s daily journey, its unplanned curves and its final destination.