What is there to hope for?
‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.’ – Proverbs 13:12
So said the writer of Proverbs, and it’s as true now as it was then. 3,000 years might have passed, but so much of what it is to be human has remained the same, and the crushing weight of disappointment is an emotion familiar to a lot of us right now.
And if hope deferred makes the heart sick, what about hope cancelled?
A month ago, if I’d asked you to tell me what this summer was going to be like, I can guess the sort of things you were imagining: the anxiousness of final deadlines and exams; the mixture of excitement and sadness as you walked out of your lecture theatre or lab for the last time; the hope of hot, lazy days in the sunshine ‘revising’ or full of smugness at having finished; packing up your room and saying fond farewells to favourite friends and significant places; the pomp and ceremony and celebration of graduation at long last; and the beginning of whatever was to be next.
But suddenly, almost overnight, it’s all gone. Not just deferred but cancelled.
In the midst of the grief and uncertainty that the whole world is experiencing right now, it might be hard to acknowledge that feelings of disappointment are also big in our hearts and minds. But it is both true and understandable. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, after all.
Whenever I think about disappointed hope, I am reminded of one of my favourite moments from the Gospel of Luke: the meeting on the road to Emmaus from chapter 24. I wonder if you’re familiar with it? It takes place on the first Easter Sunday, not long after the disciples have discovered the empty tomb and been informed that Jesus has risen. But it’s before any of the men have been convinced of the truth of that outrageous claim.
Two who had been followers of Jesus are making their way out of Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus and Jesus meets them on the journey. We’re told that they’re kept from recognising Him, assuming he’s another traveller they recount the events of the last few days. One of them men (Cleopas) speaks about Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution, and says these striking words: ‘but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.’
‘We had hoped’. Not hope deferred. Hope cancelled.
Everything comes crashing down
They’d had big plans. As they’d heard Jesus speak and seen Him do miraculous things, they’d been impressed by His power, teaching and character. And they’d started to anticipate and dream and imagine what life under this redeemer might be like.
An end to Roman occupation? Israel restored to its former glory? The big promises and predictions of the prophets coming true: Israel as a light to the nations around, Jesus as the long-promised King on David’s throne, God’s chosen people worshipping Him in the right way and the right place at last. They’d seen glimpses of what it might be like, as Jesus rode into the city on the back of a donkey, with crowds cheering and celebrating.
And then everything came crashing down. Arrest. Trial. Brutal execution. A broken body carried away to a borrowed tomb. Silence. Disappointment. We had hoped.
Every hope fulfilled
Jesus’ response is quick and feels a bit harsh at first hearing: ‘how foolish you are and how slow to believe!’ But the sting of His response is immediately taken away as He proceeds to lead them through what I can only imagine was the best Bible overview that has ever existed; unpacking the Scriptures and showing over and over again how promises and prophecies that they knew well had always pointed to Him: His coming, dying and rising again.
They make it to their destination, and as they sit down to eat together, Jesus picks up the bread and breaks it in front of them. The truth is instantly revealed, the veil is lifted from their eyes and they see the truth: this is Jesus, risen and alive and sitting at the table with them! No more deferred hope. In a moment of revelation and clarity, every hope and dream and promise and longing is fulfilled, in ways they hadn’t ever expected or planned for.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Three ways to encourage your heart
At the moment a lot of us are disappointed, and that’s okay. Disappointment, grief and fear are all normal responses in the face of this strange moment. But, if I might, I’d love to offer a couple of words of encouragement that I pray might give you help and perspective to manage that disappointment.
Bring your disappointment to the Lord in prayerSometimes we can be a bit reluctant to bring our negative emotions to God, but we don’t need to be. He made you, He knows you, He loves you, and He can handle this too.
‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ – 1 Peter 5:7
Reach out to your friends who don’t know JesusSome of our disappointment and frustration might be connected to them. Perhaps you had been hoping and praying for last chances at conversations with flatmates and friends from your course. Well, you can still have those conversations. Pick up the phone or arrange a videocall to chat. They’re probably feeling some of the same emotions as you are right now, but without a relationship with God to help them understand it. This might be the moment when they’re most open and ready to talk about some of the biggest questions of life: be there to answer them.
‘In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ – 1 Peter 3:15
Put your trust in a God who is not surprised by what has happenedWe had hoped, but He knows what He is doing. Those men on the road thought they knew what they wanted and were disappointed that God hadn’t granted their request. And yet what God was actually doing was so much bigger and so much better than anything they could have ever dreamed or imagined or hoped for on their best day. We don’t know what is going to happen in the next week, month or year, but we do know who God is and what He is like: we can have total confidence in Him to fulfil our longings in ways that we never dreamed, imagined or hoped.
‘We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ – Romans 5:3-5
Ellie Cook is a Staff Worker with Durham CU and has spent several years in student mission, both in the UK and in South Africa.
‘For the Christian in self-isolation, the chief goal of everything remains unshakeable: getting to know God as we press nearer to Him.’ For further encouragement, read this blog from Staff Worker Joe Winstone