Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God (Psalm 42:11, NRSV)
I read a touching story online, about a program that helped kids in hospitals keep up with their school lessons. A certain boy, who had been severely burned, was falling behind. The school teacher asked another teacher to go in and encourage him, which she did. Later, she was told that the boy was doing much better. She went to see the boy, who said that he realized, “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”
I think of faith as belief and trust in God, while hope is a sense of expectation that a situation is going to improve. Both faith and hope are great motivators, but I wonder if hope is the attitude that keeps faith strong. Hope is confidence that God is going to accomplish something great—and, in fact, has already accomplished great things—-and so we feel empowered.
We read in our scripture today, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” (Psalm 42:11, NRSV). Psalm 42 has been a favorite of mine. The psalmist cannot visit the Temple, perhaps because of illness or distance, and feels despair at losing that sense of presence with God. The psalmist likens the feeling to a deer who cannot get to water (42:1), and other images of privation and desperation describe his critical need for God. People ask him, “Where is your God?” (42:5), and he asks God, “Why have you forgotten me?” (42:9)
What keeps the psalmist having faith in God? Memories of happy times, for one thing. The psalmist has praised God before and therefore knows that he will do so again. But God has already done great things, protecting his people Israel and dwelling in a Temple, and that, too, strengthens the psalmist. In the verse, the psalmist admits that he still can’t praise God, but he knows he will eventually.
If you’re a worrier like me, you might ask, But what if my situation does not improve? What if I have hope but things get worse anyway? Plenty of good people are not cured of their illness; plenty of good people struggle through circumstances that seem to get no better.
God’s Big Picture
Our religious hope can help us have the “big picture” in these or any circumstances. We know that God has given us his son Jesus who provides us grace in this life and eternal life for the next. We know that God loves each one of us unconditionally and helps us daily. Even if we’re not in a good place now, we can look at God’s big picture and God’s past mercies, and we feel hopeful.
Dr. Paul Stroble
paulstroble.com; paul stroble @ amazon.com