Thinking About Hope

A passing hallway conversation with a fellow colleague prompted me to contemplate hope. For those who have a terminal disease or live with chronic pain or illness we are told, “not to give up hope” as though to give up hope is to lose the desire to go on.  But no one has said what should be hoped in or what hope should be tethered.  Because if hope is not secured to something (or someone), I would suggest that it is not hope at all but simply a wish.

For instance when I was diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia (Fall 2010) my wife and I did the research and decided our best “hope” for a cure was in an MVD.  This was an invasive brain surgery that boasts a 95% effectiveness to cure the disorder. So we “hoped” in those statistics—not once but 3 times!  Each time our “hope” was crushed.    The reason that hope did not survive reality is because our “hope” was really a wish in probability and medical statistics. We had simply “wished” that we would wake up on the right side of the numbers.  Instead we woke on the wrong side!  But we are still told not to give up hope.  But hope in what?  I guess I could hope that the Rx therapy would work.  But it hasn’t so far and even on a 50% increase there is still pain almost every hour.  Plus, anecdotally almost 60% of patients like me find that their Rx becomes ineffective over time and/or they suffer undesirable side-affects.  So it is possible that one’s hope in medication could be ill placed.   I guess I could hope for research that finds a cure but that seems like a stretch and truly setting one’s hope up for disappointment. It would seem that hope set on the medical profession (at least in my case) is not very secure.

The next logical place that well meaning Christians would exhort me to place my hope is in God.  Not to be unkind or sound unspiritual, but hope in God for what? Some have suggested to hope for healing. While I have prayed for healing, I cannot “hope” for healing since there is no guarantee that is God’s will. To hope for healing would mean that there is something to anchor that desire on.  But at least in my theological understanding of God and his word, there is none. It would be presumptuous to think other wise.

This is not to say that I am hopeless and that one should keep sharp objects away.  It is to contemplate that the hope I do have now is not for healing, a cure or being pain free.  As much as one who struggles with a lethal disease or chronic pain wants these things (and I do desperately), hope cannot be built on these.  These are really wishes and not hope.

True hope is not in a pain-free day but in a person filled day.  This is all I can truly secure my life to. Jesus promised to be with me (Matt 2:20), to never leave me or forsake me Heb 13:5).  He has promised his grace in my weakness to his glory (2 Cor 12:9).  This is or better “he” is hope that will not disappoint.

This entry was posted in Church.

One comment on “Thinking About Hope

  1. Josh Waltman says:

    Dr. McGinniss, I found this post so very profound and timely. Wow, thank you for your testimony in the midst of a trial and for your commitment to disciplining seminarians even while you work through this. I think the notion of hope is often thrown around in such an ambiguous and generic way that relatively few that use it really consider its grounding. There are so many presuppositions in appealing to “hope” and as I’m thinking through this, it isn’t immediately clear how someone who is not a believer could do so consistently or with any real assurance. There is a real apologetic element here in that people want hope and the theistic (specifically Christian) worldview provides a consistent invitation to fulfill that desire. The unbeliever is left ultimately with only “wishes.” Though, on the same token, hope in the person of Christ does not preclude suffering, as your testimony demonstrates. Hope grounded in Christ accepts the sovereignty of God( whatever that may entail), trusts that God is working these things together in accordance with His purposes, and anticipates the hope of glory. But it does so, sometimes, in the agony of chronic pain.

    Thanks for your words and ministry.

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