There have been times in my life when I have been tempted to say, “That person is hopeless.” Whenever any person of faith works with people who have hardened their hearts against God, and refused to believe in spite of the evidence, it is difficult to not lose heart and just give up on such people. When any caring person has tried for such a long time to help someone struggling with any kind of unhealthy addiction, one who does not seem to have the will to change, it may finally cause a discouraged and disillusioned advocate to say, “I am afraid he (or she) is hopeless!” Even loving parents who have tried in so many ways to help a son or daughter, but have exhausted their resources and have no other options, can in moments of desperation and despair lose hope.
However, one of the most encouraging truths about our Christian faith is the assurance that no one is a hopeless case, according to the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, when I was a younger pastor who knew this is forever true, I nevertheless sometimes grew weary of working with people who did not respond in positive ways to my efforts to help them – to help them experience God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance – to help them discover God’s purpose for their life, what God had in mind for them when He first thought of them – to help them put their past behind them, and to face the future with faith and hope – to help some recover by pointing them to the One who had the power to deliver them from their addictions. I confess there have been times when I was tempted to use that most hateful word in the English language, “hopeless,” and am now filled with feelings of guilt and shame when I remember such times, when I was overcome with a sense of failure, and also found myself wondering if I was wasting my time trying to help people who did not seem to want help, and in my opinion were not even trying to help themselves
How many times I have heard someone say, “God cannot help those who won’t help themselves,” or “God helps those who are willing to help themselves.” That is not the good news of the Gospel! The kind of God we believe in is a God who helps those who cannot help themselves! Furthermore, our God is the God who works wonders, the God for whom there are no impossibilities at all, and who does not give up on people. Perhaps we ourselves should focus less on our own futile and failed efforts to discover human solutions when trying to help those who feel hopeless, and concentrate more on helping them to discover the hope that is rooted in a personal relationship with God, when we are restored to our true destiny as persons created in the image of God, for intimacy with God, in life and in death. It is the hope the apostle Paul speaks of in his Letter to the Romans: “In hope we were saved….hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (i.e. patient waiting, hopeful waiting – Romans 8:24-25), believing in the God who “helps us in our weakness” (vs. 26), who “searches the heart” (vs. 27), who “…works for good in all things for those who love Him” (vs. 28), and “who is for us, and not against us” (vs. 31) – the God who has been revealed to us most fully in the person of Jesus, the Christ, who offers each of us an abundant life, a life of freedom from the anxieties and fears that can cripple us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. He said to all those seeking to know the truth, the truth about God, the truth about themselves, the truth about Him, the truth about life, both here-and now and hereafter: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
In my old age, whenever I encounter someone who is struggling to find freedom from any kind of bondage – bondage to anxieties, bondage to fears, bondage to the downward and backward pulls of life, bondage to any kind of addiction – anyone who is feeling helpless and hopeless – I try to remember that there is a “hidden factor” that I always need to make the “focal point” of my mind: the Jesus factor! I call to remembrance the woman who was caught in the act of adultery, and brought to Jesus by her accusers for judgment and condemnation. I can always hear our Lord telling those religious leaders, “Let those among you who are without sin cast the first stone,” and then saying to the woman, “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more.” I remember Jesus confronting another woman, at a well in Samaria, who had been used and abused, handled by too many hands, married five times, and the man she was then living with was not even her husband – and I can hear Jesus telling her the truth about herself, but speaking the truth in love, and offering her “living water” to quench her thirsting spirit – and once again I remember that with God the Father, with Christ the Son, there is always hope!
My friends, whoever you are, if you are feeling helpless and hopeless, I want you to know that as long as there is life here is hope, and as long as there is hope there is life; but there is neither life nor hope without God – the true and living God, whose character was fully manifested in the life and ministry of Jesus, who has shown us that God loves all of us unconditionally, and has the power to heal us and others mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and also physically – the power to take out of our lives all that sin has put there, and to put back into our lives all that sin has taken out – the power to free us from all our feelings of guilt and shame, and to deliver us from all our fears, such as the fear of failure (including incriminating memories of past failures that still haunt us), and the fear of public opinion – the power to free us from our dependence on the approval and acceptance of others, to heal the pain caused by the criticism of others – the power to deliver us from such harmful habits as demeaning ourselves, or trying to live up to the debilitating demands and expectations of others – and the power to give us a purpose for life that is worthy of us as persons created in the image of God, to give meaning to our lives, and the assurance of a larger, richer, fuller life beyond this life with all of its struggles and limitations, raising us ultimately from weakness into strength, from sickness into health, from sinfulness into holiness, and from death into everlasting life.
This is our greatest hope, and our greatest comfort, in life and in death, and the hope and comfort all believers should be sharing with fellow strugglers, with great thanksgiving.