Alone in the Dark

As a city slicker, I had no idea what darkness was until I drove at night in a prairie province a few hours away from the city.

A few years ago I was speaking in a small town a few hours drive outside of Winnipeg. I landed in frigid Manitoba around 10PM and drove off from the airport in the smallest, cheapest rental car my money could buy. Once the city lights were no longer visible in the rear view mirror, I discovered what “alone in the dark” truly means.

I was the only car on the #3 Highway at that time of night and with no neighbouring cities casting light into the sky, I felt like the lone survivor in a post apocalyptic world. Except if that were the case, I would have done a smash-n-grab on a much larger, zombie proof SUV or something extremely fast. But, I digress … The possibility of losing all visibility in a snowstorm went through my mind more than once.

My point (yes, I have one) is that when I saw the light from my destination on the horizon, I was immediately hopeful and relaxed. I stopped worrying about my cheapo rental car tires, envisioning having to dig myself out of a snowbank and started envisioning sitting in peace, coffee in hand at my hotel.

We are hardwired for hope.

Our happiest moments are when our hopes are realized.

A new friendship, romance or an engagement. A pregnancy or the arrival of a healthy child. Acceptance into a new job, school or business opportunity. The invitation into a new experience or getting a report from the doctor that’s good news.

Our most devastating moments are when our hopes are dashed.

A lost friendship, failed romance or a divorce. A miscarriage or the arrival of a child with significant health challenges. The rejection for employment or being denied entry into school of our choice. A failed business venture. An experience disappoints us or we get a report from a doctor that terrifies us.

We look for things to deliver us from our pain, boredom, restlessness, anxiety, depression and loneliness. Our hope in various things helps us escape the dissatisfaction we have with our lives, others, or our world.

Hope always has an object and an expectation. 

When the object of our hope fails us, unmet expectations leave us feeling like we’re alone in the dark on the #3 in a storm. [1]

The promise of Christ came in the darkest of times for God’s people. 700 years before Christ showed up on planet earth, God’s people were marched into captivity in Babylon. Jerusalem had no walls, so Jeremiah’s work was undone. There was no temple, so Solomon’s work was undone. They had no king, so David’s work was undone and they were back in slavery so the work of  Joshua, Moses and Abraham was undone. [2]

Everything in their lives seemed to have come undone. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve been through serious pain, feeling as though life itself has come undone. You worked hard at that relationship. That marriage. That business. Your health. Your vision. Then life happened and it feels as though it’s all come undone.

Good news. God diagnoses our hopelessness and then delivers us with hope.

When we are in dark times, we often question God’s wisdom, His goodness and then eventually – His presence.

“Why would God allow this pain?”
“Does God care about my pain?”
“Is God with me? Is He real?”

At this point in our hopelessness we often turn away, just like His kids did in 700BC. We don’t run to people who we’ve come to doubt. Relationships fade quickly when trust does.

Thankfully, though we are often unfaithful to God – He remains faithful to us. Such grace.

Instead of leaving us hopeless, allowing us to run to the puny gods incapable of satisfying our deepest needs, God does something unexpected. He uses these hard times as tools of uncomfortable grace. As it turns out, the doorway to hope – is hopelessness. That is to say …

Until we stop placing our hope in what is good, we will never place our hope in what is Ultimate.

As John Calvin famously put it, “our hearts are idol making factories.” It’s human nature to constantly place our hope in our relationships, careers, possessions and experiences hoping they will complete, fulfill and bring rest to us … ‘save’ us.

For hope to be true hope, it must address the biggest, darkest dilemmas and the messiest, most broken areas of our lives. Thankfully, God delivers us the same way He delivered Israel.

The hope of the gospel is not the promise of a better situation but a perfect Saviour.

God can deliver us from horrible situations. He has and He does, but ultimately, our promise is not a more favourable circumstance. If that were true, then our hope would be incredibly fragile and our newfound favourable circumstance would be continually threatened by painful circumstances in this broken world.

The message to God’s children in 700BC was that their Hope was coming.
The message to God’s children today is that our Hope has come.

So angels sang.
Shepherds minds were blown.
Wise men worshipped.

God diagnosed our hopelessness by His perfect law and so He delivered us with hope by His beautiful gospel.

We have something infinitely greater than a better situation. We have a God who transcends every situation, who is with us in every situation and gives rest to our souls regardless of our situation.

Press on,

Paul

[1] Phrase from Paul Tripp’s Advent series “The Promise of Hope”
[2] Isaiah 59

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