Hope for a New Year of the Same Old

Some of you reading this may be categorized as eternal optimists. For everyone else, I hope you will be by the time you’re done reading.

For myself, I’ve always preferred the label of realist. Because, for one, nobody actually wants to be a pessimist. But it also casts my own perception of the world, and of myself, in a somewhat more positive—dare I say, optimistic—light.

The realist in me would like to think I have a well-rounded grasp of the world that is predisposed to interpreting reality neither as good nor ill, but as it truly is. If we’re honest, however, reality is rarely good. And unpleasant reality keeps repeating. More often than not, for more people than not, reality feels like a regular kick in the shins, which means most of us realists end up slumping toward pessimism.

Our Real Stories

This proclivity to cynical gloom can be exacerbated especially this time of year, when we see the calendar flipping over for another worn-out rerun of our life story.

Not the story people see online. Not our workplace persona. Not the pretty picture we sketch in passing conversations. It’s the hidden narrative we hope no one can read on our faces, yet secretly and simultaneously wish someone cared enough to uncover.

It’s a story written on report cards and resumes, on prescriptions and balance sheets. It’s chronic pain and recurring cancer. It’s found in empty rooms, empty mailboxes, and empty hearts. It’s the age-old tale of wayward children and wandering lovers. It’s conversations that go awry and relationships that turn toxic. It’s a dead-end job. It’s a dying friend. It’s our own repeating temptations and besetting sins.

Reality regularly feels like a kick in the shins, which means most of us realists end up slumping toward pessimism.

When we’re honest with ourselves, when we actually stop and take inventory of our lives, we may struggle to squeeze the last bit of hope out of our own stories. But hope is the optimal (and optimistic) word here. Because if you lose hope you’re surely worse off than a pessimist. And if you have hope, you’re in a far better state than the everyday, shining optimist. You don’t merely believe things will turn out all right. Instead, you have confidence they will.

Why Doesn’t God Deliver?

Do you have this confidence? If so, it will inevitably affect your disposition in the face of unchanging, and seemingly unending, failure and frustration. Yet even if we possess such hope, we may still wonder why God doesn’t deliver us from trouble and answer our prayers when we call.

Perhaps the answer is a lack of faith. Could be. But that answer, in many cases, will almost certainly lead us down the path to greater personal angst. And such anxiety is the very condition we wish to remedy. So, better to consider the fact that God’s chosen servants have often experienced negative situations for which they received slow—or no—deliverance. (Now, we may not want to hear such counsel. But that’s the realist speaking.)

The fact is, you don’t have to read too far in the Psalms to discover two very interesting—and for the psalmist, frustrating—realities. First of all, struggles replicate themselves. And second, God’s deliverance often feels past due.

How Long, O Lord?

David faced the same types of trouble over and over. He needed repeated deliverance from his enemies, whether Saul or Absalom or the Philistines or whomever. And those enemies persisted in their opposition and prospered in their rebellion. Their threats continued, such that David’s burning question to God was, How long, O Lord?

At some point or another in the struggle of life, each of us will be tempted to throw up our hands in surrender to the repetition of suffering. We may mutter under our breath or shout into the night sky, “Things will never change!”

And in such torrents of emotional anguish, the Christian answer is: “This side of heaven, they may not.”

Which may sound incredulous to us as Christians in America, who live and breathe a cultural optimism that dreams of greatness, speaks of its land as a place of opportunity, and invests in its citizens the right to pursue happiness. But Christians around the world may not share the same buoyant outlook.

I recently heard a testimony of Sudanese pastors who suffer daily under poverty and oppression. They were encouraged by various biblical psalms, and perhaps not surprisingly, they were attracted to imprecatory verse. But they weren’t incited to call down judgment on their enemies. Instead, they were inspired to join in that simple, ancient prayer of faith: How long, O Lord?

Such a prayer, no doubt, offers God a plea for deliverance. It recognizes the reality of ongoing and recycled affliction. But that “how long?” is also a question that doesn’t expect its full answer until the resurrection. Sometimes, many times even, David experienced deliverance in his lifetime. But his psalms often concluded with an expectation beyond this life for a salvation that will be revealed in the last time.

Eternal Hope

This is the living hope of which Peter wrote to a suffering church. It’s a hope that rejoices in the midst of grief and trials. Not a glittery and thin hope, but a sober and deep one, fixed on the grace that will come to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

What we need at the start of a new year of the same old is the futuristic hope of a new creation. In the midst of our sin and suffering. When troubles replay. When God delays. Because such hope is a realism beyond this passing world, and it’s an optimism that is eternal.


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