Pastor Mark Anderson

Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells of a moment when he was on the verge of giving up all hope. While a political prisoner in the Soviet Union, he was forced to work 12 hours a day on a starvation diet and he became gravely ill. One afternoon, while shoveling sand under a blazing sun, he simply stopped working even though he knew the guards would beat him severely. But he felt he just could not go on. Then he saw another prisoner, a fellow Christian, moving toward him cautiously. With his cane the man quickly drew a cross in the sand and then erased it. In that brief moment, Solzhenitsyn felt a surge the hope flood through his soul. Even though his circumstances had not changed. The Holy Spirit renewed in him the courage to endure that difficult day and the months of imprisonment that followed.

This is the difference between Christian hope and optimism, wishful thinking. Those are born of the human spirit. Their strength is only as strong as the person. Wishful thinking and optimism often see life clearly enough, yet cling to the notion that good will triumph – somehow. Hope is like optimism in that it clings to a confidence in the triumph of good, but it understands the triumph of the good not as an unknown something that will somehow, someday emerge but as having already occurred in the person of Jesus Christ.

Hope, for the Christian, is founded in God’s promises, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who, even now, accompanies His people in the Spirit. So proclaims Paul to the Romans,

… hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Like faith, hope is finally vindicated because God is faithful. For the Christian, hope is not dependent on the strength of our own spirit, but in fact functions precisely when our optimism fails, when the human project stumbles, when wishful thinking falters, yes, even when spiritual strength leaves us broken and vulnerable. This is precisely what Alexander Solzhenitsyn discovered. When he had nothing left in himself, the building block of God’s promise was still there. And that building block, awakened by the symbol of the cross, spoke God’s promise to him anew and awakened that great cornerstone of Christian faith: the gift of hope.

In your baptism the sign of the cross was drawn on the sands of your life with all it’s beaming joys and dark despondency. That word of promise, given directly to you, for you, in the water and word of promise, is utterly reliable.

Wishful thinking and optimism cannot finally bear up under the extreme burdens and faulty assumptions of living. Neither can optimism. lt is the power of God’s promises alone which sustain the Christian upon the building block of hope. Those promises, centered in our rock of assurance, who is Jesus Christ, are yours – even this day.

May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in

Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Published by Pastor Mark Anderson

Lutheran pastor, husband, dad, archaeology nut, serious blues guitarist and aspiring luthier.

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