Hope is the Thing with Feathers -- Part 8 in The Twelve-Step Program to American Recovery

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,... Emily Dickinson

 Michael & Patricia Fogden/Minden Pictures/Getty Images 

 Today we drove over the Crater Lake pass in central Oregon.  There’s relatively little snow up there this year, but enough to remind me of Narnia when it was “always winter and never Christmas.” The highway tops out at close to 6,000 feet and becomes just a hallway that cuts through millions of Douglas firs that each stand 10 stories high. As far as the eye can penetrate on either side there’s just forest and snow. It looks like spring will never happen and all that will ever be is cold.
We’re living through a Narnian winter right now. On all sides we see things getting continually worse, and what glimmers of optimism we find often turn out to be false. I keep expecting to run into Tumnus and the White Witch is on TV daily. Every time our president speaks he kills off another part of the Constitution. The Republican primary has been a rocky affair. Iran is rattling its nuclear options, gas prices hit $4 today, and Obamacare is creeping down our necks. I could go on, but the ugly stuff is not my point.

My point is Emily Dickinson’s point – hope. I know that word has been tarnished, but we must take it back. It’s time in this series of essays to float up and take a good look at the big picture so we can see the beauty of history unfolding. I usually prefer history tucked safely away in the past, but it appears to be exploding all around us and we’d better make the most of it.  Let’s look at some rational approaches to hopefulness:

  • We’re not muddling through all this on our own. This world was created with a purpose. I believe it was to prove God’s perfection in the face of Satan’s accusations (Job, Isaiah). God is the creator, is perfect righteousness and justice, total omnipotence, and Satan is just a creature. Therefore, God will win, and evil will be both banished and punished. Of this I am certain. But that is not going to happen tomorrow.

  • What could happen tomorrow is the removal of the Church. There is no prophecy that has to happen before Christ comes for his family. Anyone who studies the Bible notices that all the prophecies that could have already happened, have, and that the ones that used to seem impossible (the Mark of the Beast, for instance) don’t feel unlikely anymore. Whether we’re 50 years from 1st Thessalonians or 50 hours we don’t know, but the ramping up is unmistakable. The hope is partly the tummy-tickling excitement of being zapped out of here – a world-class amusement ride -- but it is also the wonder of seeing God’s plan playing out right in front of our eyes. He is in control. Not to worry.

  • Then there’s prayer. I suspect that just the process of prayer is good for us, whether or not we actually get through to the front office, but I have seen the unmistakable, supernatural answers to prayer so many times that I’d be a fool not to count on it. “ You do not have because you do not ask,”James 4 – read the whole chapter).            I’m planning a more thorough discussion of prayer for a later post, but let me here relate one of my favorite Bible stories – one documented by extra-biblical sources. In 701 B.C. the Assyrian king Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem. The situation looked hopeless. The Assyrians had just destroyed Lachish, a city about 25 miles to the south. They tortured the citizens and burned the city. King Hezekiah tried getting help from Egypt, but that did no good. Isaiah records that 185,000 Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem and that night Hezekiah paced the walls praying for his city. In the morning all 185,000 troops were dead.  We know from Herodotus and Josephus, that the siege of Jerusalem was not successful. Some historians postulate that the soldiers died of cholera from a lack of fresh water. Herodotus wrote that mice came out of the fields and ate the Assyrian bowstrings. Isaiah says it was the Angel of the Lord. One way or the other Hezekiah’s prayers were answered. And years later Sennacherib died at the hands of his own son – which Isaiah had prophesied. 

The Greek word translated hope is elpis which actually means confidence. I have confidence in the power of prayer. Of course we need to pray on God’s terms, not ours – back to James 4.

  • And this nation is still populated by millions of wonderful, right-thinking, God-connected people. I always remember Abraham, who bargained with God on behalf of his nephew Lot (Genesis 18:23-32). God agreed that if only 10 righteous people were found in Sodom, where Lot lived, that He would spare the city. He didn’t, so we can assume that fewer than 10 good people lived there (The story of what happened when angels came to Sodom to visit him will convince you of that.) – but Lot and his family, fewer than 10, were spared. Either way, Abraham’s desires were addressed. I have hope because God is gracious and will avoid destruction if enough of us are His. I have hope because if we are not approaching the “end times” then the plan of God still needs us and we will recover our national integrity.

  • Lastly, the big picture shows us that this phase of history is not only something that God knew about for all eternity, but it is part of a cycle of history that even man has figured out. Roughly every 500 years civilization changes drastically. Gutenberg was one of the main propellants for the last major upheaval, the Renaissance. Now, the internet has stirred things up again, and whereas it is causing a lot of problems, it is providing the means for each individual to maximize his impact on society. All we have to do to is speak up.

Hope perches in my soul and I hope it is at home in yours as well. True, we will have to live through some suffering; this isn’t an amusement park and evil surrounds us. But we can think past the immediate nastiness and hold tight to the certainty that Aslan has already made his sacrifice and the winter will end.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.