Another year comes to an end, and everyone (or almost  everyone) says, “2023 was not a good year. Maybe 2024 will be better.”  If there are not some days when you feel despair about the state  of the world, you just aren’t paying attention. But if you don’t also have  days where your hope for the future makes you see all kinds of amazing  possibilities, then you aren’t really alive. Should we be optimists, looking  for a brighter future that is just out of sight, or should we be pessimists  who see the darkness of greed and violence and weep? I say, “Neither.”  There is another option, what I would call a more realistic option. As  Gordon MacDonald once said, “As Christians, we should not be  optimists or pessimists. We should be hopeful.”  

Saint Paul tells us, “And 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. For while we were still helpless, at the right  time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:5-6). Hope is not optimism.  Hope is not a vague belief that somehow “things will get better.” Hope is  not pessimism, the belief that nothing can ever really get better. Hope is  trust that Someone – Christ – will someday “make all things new.”  Hope, unlike optimism, recognizes that things really are broken beyond  our ability to repair them on our own. Hope, unlike pessimism, also  recognizes that we are not alone, and the God who loved us enough to  be born and die for us also has the power to complete his work of  resurrection.  

Hope is the attitude expressed in the Stockdale Paradox: “Have  unwavering faith that you will prevail in the end, but always confront the  brutal facts.” The explicitly Christian version might be expressed as  “Have faith that God will prevail in the end, that you will be delivered by  the Father who loves you, but never ignore the brutal facts of how bad  the situation really is.” The Stockdale Paradox is named after Rear  Admiral James Stockdale, the highest-ranking U.S. officer to be held in  the “Hanoi Hilton” prison during the Vietnam War. Stockdale managed  to survive eight years of brutal torture by not succumbing to optimism or  pessimism. When asked by author Jim Collins, “Who didn’t make it?”  He answered, “That’s easy. The optimists.” He went on to explain that  the optimists always thought that they were just about to be released,  but when release didn’t come, they were crushed. Stockdale didn’t say  it explicitly, but I’d say the pessimists didn’t make it, either. There were  people who, sadly, gave up the idea of ever being released, and they  were crushed as well. The ones who did make it lived in hope.  

In a world with challenges ranging from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza to obnoxious drivers who won’t let you merge when you’re trying to get into Harford for an important early morning meeting, it’s easy to  throw up your hands and say, “It’s all wrong.” Then you see an  incredible act of selflessness such as Adel Termos, a man in Beirut,  throwing himself on top of a suicide bomber, losing his own life but saving many other lives  ( fearless-father-who-threwhimself-on-a-suicide-bomber-saving hundreds-of-lives-in-beirut/). Or you see someone stop and help a  person pick up the groceries that just spilled out of a broken bag in the  parking lot. Suddenly, the world seems like a much, much better place.  

We need to walk through this world with our eyes really open,  not just so that we can see what’s wrong, but also — even more  importantly — so that we can see what’s right. It’s also important that we  close our eyes and pray for a future that God will bring when everything  will be right.  

Stockdale said that one of the most important books for him was  the Book of Job. As you know, Job’s story involved a lot of struggle, but, by the grace of God, it did turn out right in the end. Hope means trusting  that God will, eventually, remove all the evil and suffering in this broken world. Until then, it’s up to us to do the work of hope alongside him.  Every person we help feed, every person who finds a home, every child  who is comforted with a quilt, every refugee who is encouraged by our  prayers – every person matters. The things we do make a difference.  This isn’t optimism (we’ll fix it all) or pessimism (what’s the use – no one  can fix it). It is hope. We can trust God and even experience joy as we  get to work alongside the God of the universe who is “making all things  new” – even us. If we believe that, there really will be some changes.   2023 did have many tragedies. It also had some bright spots. I  hope 2024 will be better. Let’s do what we can to make it better. 

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