My friend Ken called me a few days ago to share bad news. The doctor told him he has incurable cancer. No particular time frame was mentioned and of course, there are counter measures to take. But it’s clear that from now on, Ken will fight a battle. As we talked, I struggled for positive, encouraging words. None came. Ironic isn’t it? I’ve been a follower of Christ for decades, I’ve graduated from seminary, served in church ministry, and after the conversation my gut reaction was… WHY GOD? IT JUST ISN’T FAIR! I expected to have something more spiritually significant and theologically profound to say. I didn’t. Even the timing seems cruel. Here it is, a few days before Christmas, the day we celebrate the Hope of the world and Ken’s news inspires hopelessness. But is it? Along with managing a copywriting/marketing/communications business, I serve part-time as a pastor to Adults 55+. It includes visiting many people in the hospital dealing with various health conditions. I’ve witnessed healing. I’ve witnessed death. And here are some things I’ve observed about hope. If you Intellectually Reject Hope…You’re Probably Healthy Several weeks ago I attended a panel discussion between an Evangelical Christian and an Atheist. It was a healthy, civil dialogue between two attractive, intelligent young people. Both presented reasonable arguments supporting their position and the debate, though passionate, was respectful. There was humor, good natured teasing, and great interaction. It was an engaging encounter that was intellectually stimulating. But that’s all it was—intellectual. It’s not that way when I visit people in the hospital dealing with life and death. Civility is gone. Intellectualism is stripped away. Raw emotions are out in the open. It comes down to one of two things: Either you have a sense of hope and certainty about where your life is headed, or you don’t. Yes, there are varying levels of intensity in these feelings, differences in attitudes, and degrees in level of assurance. But there is a clear separation between the two. I’ve seen people so confident and assured in their faith that they joke on their death bed. And I’ve seen uncertainty and fear in the eyes of those with none. You may shrug your shoulders with a cavalier attitude now and say it doesn’t matter because you don’t believe any of it. Or you may fill your life with other things so you don’t have to think about it. But when the time comes, to everyone I’ve visited—it matters. You deal with it whether you want to or not. And either you have hope or you don’t. Every Hope Has Its Reason Hope is a matter of faith. And faith is a spiritual/religious concept. There’s no getting around it. And there’s no getting away from it either. Unless you have died and seen the other side, are confident it was not a hallucinogenic or UFO experience, then you can’t know for sure what happens. You have to approach it on faith. What I can say is that hope is always grounded in a source. I stake mine in the Bible and most of the people I hang with do the same. I realize there are other choices—this one just makes the most sense to me. The people I encounter with little, or uncertain hope, usually stake it on personal merit. They say things like, “I’ve tried to live a good life. I’ve tried to do the right things.” And in reality, they are often decent people that live good lives and do the right things. But they have this nagging doubt because they envision this cosmic scale of justice where God weighs all their good deeds against the bad ones to determine eternal outcomes. It’s hope placed in a hope. Does my good outweigh my bad? I’m not sure and since it’s my human nature to remember all the good and forget the bad, I’m suddenly a bit nervous about the prospect. And I have to wait until God does the weighing to find out? That’s not very hopeful. So now they’re facing life and death and they’re wondering if they explored all the options. Was there an opportunity for more assurance? I’ve seen this worry in their eyes. It’s pure panic. Hope Is More Than Wishful Thinking I try to explain to people that hope is more than Pinocchio’s “When you wish Upon a Star.” It’s not this vague sense of well-being based on warm, fuzzy feelings that have no base in logic. And it’s not just for those of limited intelligence either, although I certainly don’t claim to be the sharpest crayon in the box. Some of the greatest minds in the world profess the same hope that I do. I find this reassuring. In case the cruelest cosmic act of fate is true—Christianity is all a big hoax and my hope is dashed—I take comfort knowing a lot of sharp crayons were also fooled. The point is, I’ve conducted a thoughtful evaluation of evidence. To me it makes logical sense. But I can only take it to a point. I have to take a step of faith. When you take that step…that’s where you find hope. My friend, Ken agrees. He’s an engineer with an exceptionally keen, logical mind. And I like the fact that he agrees. It makes me feel smart. Ken and I share the same faith so we’re able to face life and death with a sense of confidence. We still don’t like the news. But we face the future with hope. How about you? Let’s hear your story of hope.