“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” – Proverbs 13:12
I suffer. You suffer. We suffer. Pain is a common ailment, affecting 100% of the world’s population. Sure, there are people who go through more anguish than others. Not all pain is equal in degree or in longevity. But at the end of the day, we can all say that we have either suffered or are continually suffering one way or another. So let’s change the saying to a new an improved version: Three things are certain, suffering, death, and taxes.
The question is not if we suffer, but how we suffer.
As I see it, there are two ways of enduring the hardships this world has to offer: With hope or without it.
Suffering with no hope feels like darkness. There is nothing to look forward to, nothing to make us get up in the morning, and nothing to motivate us to keep trying, breathing, moving forward. Suffering without a living, present hope, as the proverb says, makes the heart sick. A sick heart will see no light nor will it desire to live. A sick heart wants to succumb to the pain instead of fighting against it. It will desire to give up and will seek a way out. Suffering without hope is desperate.
Suffering with hope feels altogether different. The object of our hope strengthens our minds to do battle against our pain. We endure when we hope. We find strength when we hope. We can embrace our suffering and see the good in it, when we hope. In fact, we can even have joy in spite of the pain, when we hope. A cancer patient can endure radiation because she has hope it can heal her. The unemployed father gets up every morning and endures the hardship by applying to jobs because he hopes he will find one soon. A child suffers through relocation and changes of school when he hopes he will make new friends. Hope helps us to keep trying.
But the problem with hope is that it is not always real nor attainable. What happens when chemo doesn’t work and the cancer does not go away? Or the job search lasts not for a few weeks, but for a year? What if a student hopes to recover from his failing grades but can’t and loses his scholarship? We can hope for a new boyfriend, a better car, a marriage, a child, and that hope can help us through a season. But what if the object of our hope never materializes? What if fertility treatments don’t work? What if we are evicted from our home? What is our hope then? How can we endure then? Do we succumb and give up?
Yes, any kind of hope can help us in our suffering, even if for a little while. But there is only one kind of hope that will sustain us all the time and in all circumstances. There is only one hope that does not disappoint. Even when there is no earthly hope that can possibly pick us up, there is an eternal, supernatural hope that will. A man named Job, written about in the Old Testament, lost everything: His children died, his processions were burned away, his wife left him, and then the icing on the cake, he got so sick that he was in constant pain and unable to care for himself. He fought hard against suffering. He said: “Though he (God) slay me, I will hope in him”. He understood two things: 1. God allowed suffering in his life, and 2. He could trust God with his pain because God obviously understood why he would do such a thing to Job, even when Job could not understand it. Yes, the whole book of Job shows us a tremendous struggle of belief and unbelief. But in the end, we see that these words really reflected where Job put his trust. He obviously would never see his children again. Humanly speaking, there was no hope! Yet, he hoped. He hoped, not in a physical restoration or restitution, but in God himself.
Suffering may find us. But we can find hope, but deciding to trust God. He, himself, is our hope. It is not what he can give us or what he can do for us, that should give us hope, but who he is: his character, his presence, his comfort, his wisdom, his knowledge, and everything that makes him God and huge and good. We can put our trust in him so that He becomes our hope.
When we desire him more than what he can give us, we will then breathe life into our pain. “…. A desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. Yes! Let us make him the object of our desire:
- By reading Scripture that reminds us of who he is and how much we need him
- By talking to him, acknowledging his presence and power in our lives
- By listening to him (spending time in silence, hearing God’s Word preached, talking with others who trust in him also)
- By refusing to allow our emotions to win over our will to trust. Persevere and fight!
I have endured suffering with no hope, the dark kind. I have also suffered with great hope in Christ. I wish for myself, for my children, my family, and my friends, and even for you, dear reader, to never suffer in darkness.
“Why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” -Psalm 43:5