Long before “Hope and Change” was ever a popular expression in modern America, the wise one, Solomon, had a similar but more profound word about hope.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
I think it’s important to see what Solomon is saying here. We cannot skip to the second half of the verse before we deal with the first half. The old sage is very clear as he points to hope as a cause for that sinking feeling in our chest. It is not depression, death, or any other traditionally negative thing that he conspicuously links with this soul-sickness; it is hope.
We love the idea of hope. We love to see the future as a bright place, as better than the present. Having mentioned it earlier, the 2008 presidential campaign became a story of how the future could be, and would be, a brighter place. Our current president used one of the most powerful lines I’ve heard in my short lifetime of political consciousness, “There is nothing false about hope.” How do you combat that? How do you stifle the chest-puffing, back-straightening, chin-setting effect of that kind of statement? The answer, obviously, is that you don’t. You vote for it, you have faith in it, you rest in that kind of statement. And then, after 4 years of gridlock, foreign war, and financial calamity you find a nation divided. Why? Because hope deferred leaves us in a place of despair.
Now, I believe that there are many more reasons for the country’s problems than our current president. Where I agree and disagree with him is irrelevant in this discussion. It has taken more than one guy and his ideology to bring us to the place where we are now. But one of the things that marks us as a nation at this point in history is our growing cynicism and frustration with the way things (for some, everything) are. We thought it was supposed to be better. We were assured that this plan would work, or that system would solve the problem. But the reality is that instead of the hope and change (that we ALL, admittedly or not) wanted instead winds up being hope and angst because the object of our hope is perpetually deferred.
In a book that I’m reading currently, “Desire” by John Eldredge, this issue is brought up in a chapter on the dilemma that we all face regarding this “heart-sickness”. Counter-intuitively, Eldredge makes the case for the sullen emotional response to hope deferred as a way to find the fulfillment we long for. He says,
The road to life and joy lies through, not around, the heart-sickness of hope deferred.
But, he points out our natural tendency, and therein our ultimate problem,
The option most of us have chosen is to reduce our desire to a more manageable size. We allow it out only in small doses – just what we can arrange for. Dinner out, a new sofa, a vacation to look forward to, a little too much to drink. It’s not working. The tremors of the earthquake inside are beginning to break out.
– John Eldredge, “Desire”
The pain intrinsic in Solomon’s words is this: hope, by its very nature, is a deferring of fulfillment. Without a delay there is no need for hope. But, with a delay there is the heart-sickness that comes from knowing things are supposed to be better (or at least different) than they currently are.
In a short blog post this idea is impossible to exhaust, but I think it’s important that we begin in the right place when we are pondering just how things are going to be in our lives. We will find that our hopes and dreams will always outweigh the fruition; in fact, if they didn’t we would be in a sad place. Hope exists for a reason. God could have sent Jesus in Genesis 3:16, right after the promise of Him in verse 15, but He didn’t, He waited. There is this Biblical expression that we must learn with regard to the chronology of hope: “the fullness of time”. It’s the phrase that the Bible uses for the fruition Solomon talks about here in Proverbs. God brings us to places of waiting for reasons that we may or may not understand. The truth is that we may never understand why His timing and direction work in the ways that they have. God doesn’t always find it necessary to explain Himself. In fact, very rarely does He feel a need to justify His actions with explanations and rhetoric.
But despite all of the waiting and frustration and impatience and agitation it can bring there is reason for us to hope. In the darkest of nights, in the most frightening situations, in the places of greatest confusion hope shows itself to be two-edged. One edge cuts us to the core of who we are. It hurts us as it makes our hearts sick with desire. It exposes and reveals just what we are actually waiting for, hoping for, longing for – we must see if our hopes are even worthy of fruition. You see, without the first cut, hope doesn’t adequately work in us. The second edge of hope cuts into the darkness of the future and shows us what will be. It deftly slices through every monster, dragon, wall, and ocean in its path and powerfully links the desires of our heart with the horizon of reality. This is, on some level, what the writer of Hebrews was talking about when he said that “faith is the evidence of things hoped for.”
May we not lower our hopes and dreams just because they have a tendency to draw hidden pain from our souls like water from a deep, brush-covered well. But may we embrace hope and let it show us that the deep and profound pain and longing we feel is evidence of the great and glorious ending that God has written for us when time grows full enough to explode.
Hope with me friends. Dream with me. May we meet in that place of angst and together one day walk into the halls of Zion’s grace.