Can Hope Carry Us Through
Finding Meaning in Suffering - Job's Story
The True Triumph of the Will
When Victor Frankel stood stripped naked before his Nazi guards and the vile Dr. Joseph Menegele, he realized suddenly that these evil men had no power to harm him. Yes, they could damage, even kill his body, but they had no power to possess his mind. In his mind he was free. Ironically the Germans have a saying that describes Frankel's epiphany.
"Sie gedanken sind frei."
Your thoughts are free. Knowing this. Believing this down at the core of your being, is what fills you with hope. Hope is a biproduct of the realization that nothing the world throws at you can conquer you. There's something psychologists call "locus of control" (LOC). It is the perception, by any person of where control of their life is centered. If you draw a circle to represent yourself, the question becomes, "Are you governed by events happening outside that circle or by what you decide within that circle?" Those whose locus of control is internal, believe that they control the events of their own lives. They choose. They assign meaning to all that happens to them. Those who believe external happenstance controls them are battered this way and that by the actions of others and by good or bad "luck" with little control of their own lives. Statistically those with an external LOC are more prone to despair, depression and suicide.
The external LOC group is easily reduced to despair and hopelessness. Ironically, Christians are some of the most reslieint people in the face of danger, disaster and desparate situations. You would think that because they look to God for control of their life that they would feel pretty despairing when God allows bad things to happen to them. That's how most nonbelievers see Christians - as people externally controlled by church, by preachers, by prayerbooks and fantasies of getting goodies from God in exchange for good behavior. But they are wrong.
Christians believe that by surrendering their lives to God, He enters the circle that represents their lives and sets them free from bondage to any external circumstance. They are no longer bound by the need to hold grudges or harbor ill will toward anyone no matter what that person has done to them. Their horrible childhoods and the tragedies that have dogged them no longer have power over them. With God within, the Christian has purpose. His will is to do what is right. His purpose is to love all those around him. He is in control of his life. He becomes an immortal creature, immune to the viscissitudes of life.
Even if he dies, is financially ruined, imprisoned or tortured, none can penetrate that brilliant circle of light that protects the Christian's heart and mind. Everything, we are convinced, will work out for good, even if we don't understand how. We can stand in any breach, face any attack, drive away any demon that assails us because we are children of almighty God. Our lives have meaning. We take control of our own stories. What we do means something, no matter whether it works out well or ill in the eyes of any other person.
We feel hope, not as the thing which gets us through trial and tribulation, but as something you can't help feeling because you know that your life is worth something and that your struggle is not in vain. It is who you know and what you do that matters, not what you feel. If you know God as your father, brother and friend, if you love your neighbor as yourself, then you will have hope. You can't help it.
And let me make clear what I mean by 'love'. Love is not some gooey feeling someone gives you from outside. It's not even some feeling you can gin up from the inside. I mean love, the action verb kind of love -- not sex or some vague warm feeling toward another that people merely call love. Love is doing something; treating others as you would want to be treated. It's being the good guy in the movie of your life - the guy that does what's right, that rides in on the white horse to save the day. With God within you are armored without. You can stand firm in the face of any calamity, sneer at fear and laugh in the very face of the devil.
"Can hope carry us through?" is the wrong question to ask. It's like asking "Can the excitement of riding a horse teach us to stay on the horse's back." You'll find it works the other way round. I know. I did not truly learn to love horses until I learned to ride. The breath-taking exhileration of pounding across an open field on the back of one of these magnificent beasts is the result of learning to ride them not the means of riding them.
In the same way, conquering fear, understanding the meaning of life, knowing that what you do matters and that God stands by your side througout it all --- it is that which gives you hope and allows you to survive no matter what they throw at you.
(c) 2011, Puyallup, WA