Hope is a tricky thing. On the one hand it is the very heart of what moves us, what makes us tick, what keeps us going. However, hope cannot be present without adversity.
I am reminded of one of my very favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption. As I sat to write this, I had the words of one of the lead characters going through my head. “Remember, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” To be honest with you, as I began to write this, heard those words bouncing through my head and thought they must have been scripture. Instead, they are the words of Andy Dufresne, a man who was mistakenly sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife (which he didn’t do). Those words of hope are offered by Dufresne to his friend Red, who has been released from prison but no longer knows how to live as a free man.
As I mentioned earlier, the nature of hope is a complex one. I think we need hope as much as we need air, water, food and shelter. It is one of those vital parts of our inner being that keeps us going. The trick is, you cannot have hope without adversity. A prerequisite for hope is having a situation that seems insurmountable, challenging, painful, harmful, dark, scary, or even evil. For it is in facing such realities that the human spirit chooses to find ways to rise above, and it is in this determination to rise above that we find the seeds of hope.
I wonder sometimes about the realities of our American culture. The rates of depression for us are strikingly high when compared to other countries around the world. Could it be that we have so shaded ourselves from reality with entertainment, comfort and distraction that rather than facing adversity and pain in order to find hope, we have opted for living a life under anesthesia? Is, perhaps, part of the problem that we have turned away from our troubles instead of facing them, and by extension, limited the birth real hope in our lives?
This Sunday’s scripture lesson shows us real hope—albeit in a very strange place. In the case of Jeremiah, real hope came in the form of a real estate transaction. As Babylon was razing Jerusalem to the ground, Jeremiah was setting up the purchase of land from his cousin—from Jeremiah’s own prison cell, no less! Talk about adversity, pain, darkness and even evil. Jeremiah is pretty much at his lowest low, and here he is buying property. At first read, this seems like such a strange story, but when you think of the symbolism, it is incredibly powerful. Even at this darkest of all moments for the people of Jerusalem, Jeremiah is investing in the future—on the very land the Babylonians were taking from them. Keep in mind, Jeremiah has been that hopelessly negative guy that kept telling everyone that things were going to fall apart and that the world as they knew it was coming to an end. And for people to see pessimistic Jeremiah buying land, must have been a real symbol that the story isn’t over yet. As Richard DeSimone put it at Bible Study last night (borrowed from a Hindu proverb that was later quoted by John Lennon), “Everything will be okay in the end. If it is not okay, it is not the end.” Powerful words. Words of true hope!
Perhaps this points at the fact that we do need moments where it is not okay. We do need moments of adversity, struggle and perhaps even evil. Without these painful moments, how else could we find that kind of hope? How else could we find the king of hope that moves us to amazing feats? How else would we be moved to take on the things that others would say are crazy, that we might change the world?