“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” – Isaiah 9:2
This has been a dark year.
We are not the first people to walk through a period of great darkness and, unless the Lord comes again very soon, we will not be the last. Nor is this the last period of darkness we will face. We live in a broken world, full of evil and sin and so much pain–it should come as no surprise when we experience trials and suffering. In fact, we are warned multiple times throughout Scripture that trials and suffering are to be expected.
And yet, there are trials that take our breath away, leaving us grasping and gasping for air. There are days we hoped would never come, and experiences no amount of warning could have prepared us to go through. Our hearts are torn and bruised; sometimes they feel like they are barely beating, and sometimes we might wish they didn’t keep on beating because of the excruciating pain. It is so tempting to give up hope.
When we give up hope, we go one of two ways. First, we give up trusting God and despair: of complete restoration in the long term, of peace and happiness in the short term, and of any good or meaning that could come from our suffering. Alternatively, we give up trusting God and others and only trust in ourselves. We put on armor and build impenetrable walls around our hearts; by doing this we succeed in shutting out hurt and pain, yes, but we also shut out love and joy.
So why should we hope? Isn’t that being naive or short-sighted? We hope because we have something, Someone who is worth hoping in, Someone who will one day make all things right.
“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” – Romans 8:23-25
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4
We hope because it is a result of suffering, not the antithesis of suffering. Suffering is not meant to dampen or snuff out hope–it produces hope.
Think of it this way: working out produces muscle; muscle, stamina; and stamina, energy. Working out increases our capacity to create energy and use it well. Similarly, suffering increases our capacity for hope and directs our hope toward Him who is worthy of our hope. Without darkness, we would not realize the depth of our need for light. Without trials and suffering, we would not realize how greatly we need rescue and restoration.
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:5
See the generous love of our Father, poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He sent to live with us. Rich gift indeed! He not only pours His love into our hearts; He also produces perseverance, character, and hope in us through suffering. What is this hope that does not put us to shame?
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called
Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” – Isaiah 9:6-7
For a lot of people, advent and Christmas is a time marked by greater joy, gratitude for Christ coming to earth as a baby, and the spirit of festivity and generosity. But for many, this is a time of year that holds a lot of pain. It is a reminder of lost loved ones, fractured relationships, and it causes greater stress and anxiety.
Whether you fall into the first or second category, or maybe a combination of both, I say this to you: Hold on to hope. Hold on with both hands. Hold on as if your life depended on it–because it does. Allow your suffering and longing for joy and healing and belonging throw you back into the arms of the Wonderful Counselor; Mighty God; Everlasting Father; Prince of Peace.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:23