Hope—Vital Protection in a Dismal World
A young Korean boy wanted to help his mother convince a college student how important it is to have hope for the future. Remembering an illustration he had heard at a Christian meeting, he asked the student if she would help him solve a riddle. She agreed. He said: “There were two families. Both were very poor. It was raining hard, and the roofs of both houses were leaking. One family was very sad, and they did a lot of complaining about the leaks. But the other family was happy and pleasant while patching their roof. Why so much difference between these two families?” Intrigued, the young woman replied that she did not know. “Well,” the boy said, “the second family was happy because they had just received a notice from the city government that they would be given a new house. So they had hope. That was the difference!”
THE boy’s riddle illustrates a simple truth: Hope changes the way we feel about life, often in spite of our circumstances. Like the two families he described, most of us have to weather storms in life—health problems, financial worries, family tensions, crime, and countless other trials and abuses. Often, we can no more make such problems go away than we can order a thunderstorm out of our vicinity. So we may feel frustrated, alone—in short, helpless. To make matters worse, we may have been taught in church that the future is bleak for most sinners, that it may include being punished forever.
It has been said that a recipe for becoming depressed is helplessness plus hopelessness. But we can definitely remove one of those ingredients; none of us have to be hopeless. And hope itself may be the best weapon to ward off the other ingredient, feelings of helplessness. If we have hope, we may endure life’s storms with a measure of calm and contentment instead of struggling along in abject misery. Yes, hope is a vital protection.
Does such a claim bring out the skeptic in you? Is hope really so powerful that it makes that great a difference? And is a reliable hope available to each of us?
Like a Helmet
The medical field has begun to recognize the remarkable power of hope. A survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, stress specialist Dr. Shlomo Breznitz, stated that in the case of most of life’s problems, “stress comes from our interpretation of their difficulty, not the problems per se. Hope reduces their weight.” An article in The Journal of the American Medical Association asserted that hope is “a powerful medicine.” American Health magazine reported: “There are many examples of patients, especially cancer patients, who take a sudden turn for the worse when something makes them lose hope—or who suddenly improve when they find something new to live for.”—Compare Proverbs 17:22.
Students of the Bible have long known the importance of hope. At 1 Thessalonians 5:8, the apostle Paul urged Christians: “Let us keep our senses and have on . . . as a helmet the hope of salvation.” How is “the hope of salvation” like a helmet?
Consider what a helmet does. The soldier of Bible times wore a helmet of copper or iron, fitted over a felt, wool, or leather cap. This helmet shielded his head from the flying arrows, swinging clubs, and slashing swords of warfare. Likely, then, few soldiers hesitated to wear a helmet if they had one. However, wearing the helmet did not mean that the soldier was invincible or that he felt nothing when his head was struck; rather, the helmet simply ensured that most blows glanced off instead of doing fatal damage.
As a helmet protects the head, so hope protects the mind. Hope may not enable us to shrug off each crisis or setback as if it were nothing. But hope cushions such blows and helps to ensure that they do not prove fatal to our mental, emotional, or spiritual health.
The faithful man Abraham evidently wore this figurative helmet. Jehovah asked him to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. (Genesis 22:1, 2) How easy it would have been for Abraham to spiral down into despair, a feeling that might well have led him to disobey God. What protected his mind from such feelings? Hope played a key role. According to Hebrews 11:19, “he reckoned that God was able to raise [Isaac] up even from the dead.” Similarly, Job’s hope in a resurrection helped to protect his mind from bitterness, which could have led him to curse God. (Job 2:9, 10; 14:13-15) Jesus Christ, in the face of an agonizing death, found strength and solace in his joyful hope for the future. (Hebrews 12:2) Confidence that God will never do wrong, never fail to fulfill his word, is the groundwork for true hope.—Hebrews 11:1.
The Basis for Genuine Hope
Like faith, genuine hope is based on fact, reality, truth. This may surprise some. As one writer put it, “most people seem to think that hope is just a dopy form of denying the truth.” Yet, true hope is not a mere pie-in-the-sky optimism, an insipid belief that we will get whatever we want or that every little thing will work out just fine. Life has a way of dowsing such glowing delusions with buckets of cold reality.—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Real hope is different. It comes from knowledge, not wishes. Consider the second family in the riddle mentioned at the outset. What hope would they have had if their government had been notorious for reneging on its promises? Rather, the promise plus evidence of its reliability could give the family a solid basis for hope.
Likewise, Jehovah’s Witnesses today have a hope that is closely tied to a government—God’s Kingdom. This Kingdom lies at the very heart of the Bible’s message. For millenniums it has been the source of hope for women and men, such as Abraham. (Hebrews 11:10) God promises that by his Kingdom, he will bring an end to this corrupt old world system and usher in a new one. (Romans 8:20-22; 2 Peter 3:13) This Kingdom hope is real, not a dream. Its source—Jehovah God, Sovereign Lord of the universe—is unimpeachable, to say the least. We need only examine God’s physical creation to see that he exists and has ample power to fulfill all his promises. (Romans 1:20) We need only scrutinize the record of his dealings with mankind to see that his word never goes unfulfilled.—Isaiah 55:11.
Sadly, though, most who profess to be Christians have lost sight of true hope. Theologian Paul Tillich said in a recently published sermon: “The [early] Christians learned to wait for the end. But slowly they ceased to wait. . . . The expectation for a new state of things on earth became weak, although one prayed for it in every Lord’s Prayer—Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”
What a tragedy! Millions, even billions, of people in dire need of hope have none, yet it is readily available to them right there in their own Bibles. Look at the dismal fruitage! Without a sound hope to protect their minds, is it any wonder that a despairing, “disapproved mental state” has led so many to pollute the world with rampant immorality and violence? (Romans 1:28) It is crucial that we never fall into the same trap. Instead of discarding the helmet of hope, we need always to strengthen it.
How to Build Your Hope
The best way to build hope is to take note of its source, Jehovah God. Study his Word, the Bible, diligently. Romans 15:4 says: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Further, we should make sure that our hope for the future is not just a vague abstraction. We need to make it real in our minds. Do you hope to live forever in Paradise on earth? Would you like to meet your dead loved ones when they are resurrected on earth? If so, do you picture yourself there at that time? For instance, Isaiah 65:21, 22 speaks of each one building his own house and then occupying it. Can you close your eyes and imagine yourself working on the roof of your new house, nailing down the last shingle? Just think of looking around you at the results of all your planning and labor. The cheery sounds of construction quiet down; you survey the landscape as the afternoon shadows stretch across it. A breeze makes the trees sway gently and cools you from the heat of your work. The laughter of children, mingled with birdsong, reaches your ears. The talk of your loved ones rises from the house below.
Visualizing such a happy moment is not idle speculation; rather, it is meditation on a prophecy that is sure of fulfillment. (2 Corinthians 4:18) The more real that prospect is to you, the stronger your hope that you will be there. Such a firm, palpable hope will protect you from feeling “ashamed of the good news,” which might make you shirk the assignment of sharing it with others. (Romans 1:16) On the contrary, you will want to ‘boast in the hope’ as the apostle Paul did, by sharing it confidently with others.—Hebrews 3:6.
There is more than the eternal future that offers hope. There are sources of hope in the present too. How so? A fifth-century Roman statesman named Cassiodorus said: “He receives hope in future benefits who recognizes a benefit that has already taken place.” Wise words! What comfort will we find in promises of future blessings if we cannot appreciate present blessings?
Prayer also builds hope right now. Besides praying for the long-term future, we should pray for our present needs. We may hope and pray for improved relations with family members and fellow Christians, for our next spiritual meal, even for our material needs to be met. (Psalm 25:4; Matthew 6:11) Placing such hopes in Jehovah’s hands will help us to endure day by day. (Psalm 55:22) As we endure, our endurance itself will also strengthen the helmet of hope.—Romans 5:3-5.
Taking a Hopeful View of People
Negative thinking is like rust on the helmet of hope. It is corrosive, and gradually it could render the helmet useless. Have you learned to recognize negative thinking and to fight it? Do not be fooled by the mistaken notion that a cynical, critical, pessimistic attitude is the same as intelligence. Actually, negative thinking demands little of the intellect.
It is all too easy to have a hopeless attitude about our fellow humans. Some, because of painful experiences in the past, despair of receiving help or comfort from people ever again. “Once bitten, twice shy” is their motto. They may even hesitate to go to Christian elders for assistance with their problems.
The Bible helps us to take a more balanced view of people. True, it is unwise to put all our hopes in men. (Psalm 146:3, 4) But in the Christian congregation, the elders serve as “gifts in men” from Jehovah. (Ephesians 4:8, 11) They are conscientious, experienced Christians who sincerely want to be “like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm.”—Isaiah 32:2.
Many others in the Christian congregation also care deeply about being a source of hope. Just think of how many hundreds of thousands of them are right now acting as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children to those who have lost their own families; think of how many more are acting as friends “sticking closer than a brother” to those who are in distress.—Proverbs 18:24; Mark 10:30.
If you have prayed to Jehovah for help, do not give up hope. He may already have answered you; there may be an elder or other mature Christian who is ready right now to help you once you make your need known. A balanced hope in people protects us from withdrawing from everyone and isolating ourselves, which can lead to selfish, impractical conduct.—Proverbs 18:1.
Further, if we have a problem with a fellow Christian, we need not approach it with a hopeless, negative attitude. After all, “love . . . hopes all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Try to look at Christian brothers and sisters as Jehovah does—with hope. Focus on their good qualities, give them the benefit of the doubt, and be solution oriented. Such hope protects us from feuds and quarrels, which benefit no one.
Never give in to the hopelessness of this dying old world. Hope is there—both for our eternal future and for the solution of many of our immediate problems. Will you take hold of hope? Wearing the hope of salvation like a protective helmet, no servant of Jehovah is truly helpless—no matter how dire the circumstances. If we do not give it up ourselves, nothing in heaven or on earth can wrest away the hope Jehovah has given us.—Compare Romans 8:38, 39.