Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Quick Thought on Hopelessness

Being, as I am, a bit of an Eeyore personality, I find that the undaunted cheeriness of some of my friends can be occasionally grating. I'm reminded of R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People," a fizzy jangle from a band generally more comfortable in the shadows. When the book of the world is finally written, R.E.M. will be remembered ironically for "Shiny, Happy People" and remembered gratefully for its more somber, empathetic "Everybody Hurts." Mark my words.

Anyway, today I read a line from someone who suggested that if you are hopeless, it's generally your own fault. You have turned your eyes from the Giver of every good gift; you have turned instead to ephemeral idols and found that they cannot bear the weight of idolatrous need. You are hopeless, and you need to stop it.

I found that line of thought annoying. Mainly because I'm not sure that such a thing as hopelessness actually exists.

Oh, I've felt hopeless, believe me. Any Eeyore worth his stuffing has. But feeling hopeless and being hopeless are two different things. Hope is, in fact, a thing--not a thing possessed by us but a thing visited on us. "Hope is the thing with feathers," Emily Dickinson wrote,

That perches in the soul. . . .
Yet never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Hope is self-sufficient; it has no need of us for it to endure. Moreover, hope is a gift, a promise of God: "Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him" (Psalm 62:5). Hope is present where God is present, and God is everywhere present.

We treat hope as a responsibility when it's a gift. And so we see people who feel hopeless, we see circumstances that appear hopeless, and we pass judgment and declare them as such. And then we wash our hands and get on with our day. In doing so we fail--we sin against--those who have lost sight of hope.

Why does God provide us with hope? "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13). We are to pour out the hope that we carry by God's grace; we are not meant to hold on to it but to lavish it. Love, the apostle Paul tells us, "always hopes" (1 Corinthians 13:7). And love is our responsibility to our neighbor, the second great commandment that is like the first.

Hopeless, in our current climate, is a term we assign to people or circumstances that we're no longer willing to deal with. We've forsaken the challenge to love our neighbor as ourselves and so to hope on their behalf, to share our hope liberally with them. To call another person or circumstance hopeless is in fact to call ourselves hopeless--or, more to the point, to call ourselves pitiless, merciless, useless.

Sorry. I guess I'm a little cranky today.

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