This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19-20
Hope is Kathy’s word. It’s been on a chain around her neck the past three years. It’s travelled with her to chemo appointments, over trash cans and kitchen sinks where she has stood doubled over from nausea and pain, and into weekly doctor visits where she has had to face hard news. It’s travelled with her on family trips and in backyard gatherings of friends and neighbors eating dinner and swimming in their pool. It’s carried her when the lights have gone off and she’s chosen to go on thanking and praising the Lord, no matter how she feels or what circumstances dictate. Kathy’s strong and joyful determination to choose hope from the moment she heard the word “cancer” have stood as a beautiful testimony to the beautiful spirit of woman who has chosen, against all odds, to trust and hope in God.
So that’s why, this week, when the decision was made to call in hospice, all of us who know and love Kathy had a decision to make about hope when it looked like her anchor had been cut and was plummeting to the depths of the sea.
Personally speaking, for several days, I had to wrestle with and remember the definition of hope, not according to what I wanted it to be or thought it would be but according to what it actually is. Hope defined according to the Gospel of Grace, the good news given to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the authority He brings and instills in His Kingdom here on the this earth and in the world to come.
I went to my shelf and blew the dust off of a cover of a book I read in college: Faith Hope Love by philosopher Josef Pieper. It is a book I read before I had children when I actually had brain cells and the ability to concentrate longer than ten seconds on any particular task. I remembered the section on Hope being particularly helpful when I read it twenty years ago, and when I went back to its highlighted pages, I wasn’t disappointed.
“The virtue of hope,” writes Pieper, “is preeminently the virtue of the status viatoris; it is the proper virtue of the ‘not yet.’….To be a ‘viator’ means to be ‘one on the way’. The status viatoris is, then, the ‘condition or state of being on the way’. Its proper antonym is status comprehensoris. One who has comprehended, encompassed, arrived, is no longer a viator, but a comprehensor…The ‘not yet’ of the status viatoris includes both a negative and a positive element: the absence of fulfillment and the orientation toward fulfillment.”
So why in the world was that complicated definition with Latin words helpful to bolstering my understanding of hope?
Because hope, according to Pieper, and according to the Scriptures, is the state of being on the way. It’s the virtue associated with knowing while you take breath on this earth you haven’t arrived yet. The moment you live on planet earth and think you have arrived, the moment your hope disappears. Until we take our last breath here, and stand before King Jesus and see Him face-to-face, we are not Home. Therefore, when awful things happen here on this earth, when the lights go out, when cancer calls our name, when it looks like hope exits the room and hospice enters, hope remains as long as we understand that we are on the way.
Kathy is on her way to healing. Even if the Lord chooses to heal her body completely while she is still on this earth and eradicate cancer from her physical frame (something for which we still pray), she will still not have arrived. She will still be on the way. A viator. A traveller. A pilgrim. A sojourner. A sojourner whose tent pegs are driven firmly and beautifully and purposefully in the dirt of this earth, but who knows she has a permanent home to come.
So hope remains. Even with hospice. Or, I should probably say, especially with hospice. Because as much as we want Kathy to be healed on this earth, every step she takes closer to Heaven is a step filled with more and more hope. Because true, lasting, eternal, physical, emotional, and spiritual healing is about to flood her soul. Forever.
So what I am learning this week is that hospice isn’t the enemy of hope. Bad news isn’t the enemy of hope. War and rumors of war aren’t the enemies of hope. Cancer, sickness, illness, broken bones, broken bodies and broken souls are not the enemies of hope. But despair and false hope are.
“Hope says: it will turn out well; or more accurately and characteristically: It will turn out well for mankind; or even more characteristically: It will turn out well for us, for me myself. To these characteristic degrees of hope there correspond the degrees of despair. The most characteristic form of despair says: It will turn out badly for us and for me myself” (Pieper).
The first enemy of hope, despair, is seeing the height to which God has called us to rise, and refusing to rise. Despair is seeing the beautiful, healing life God makes available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and choosing to remain sick. Despair is fearing “more than anything else the demands that are made, as a matter of course, on one who is well” (Pieper). Despair is a purposeful turning aside from life to sorrow. From resurrection to death. From hope in fulfillment in the life, home, and healing to come to focusing on (and even demanding) its fulfillment in the here and now.
The second enemy of hope, false hope, is more commonly known by another name…pride. We come to God on our own terms, in our own way, fully expecting Him to meet our demands and desires for fulfillment of hope the way we think He needs to answer. We falsely hope in a God who lives to serve us, rather than us serving Him.
False hope demands answers in the here and now and makes the subtle shift of moving from one who is on the way to one who has arrived.
Every day, Kathy, and those of us who love Kathy, live walking on the razor edge of hope. A misstep one way causes despair and spiritual sorrow that our petitions for the fulfillment for her healing have not been met in the here and now. And a misstep the other way causes us to land in the midst of false hope. Thinking we know the answers and that true healing can only occur while standing firmly with our feet planted on this earth.
The razor edge of hope is a hard place to walk. Actually, it’s an impossible place to walk, save for the anchor tied to our souls that firmly fixes us to God. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is a High Priest who can help us in our time of need because He looked hopelessness full in the face. He faced the temptation to despair and to refuse to believe that it could turn out well for Him or for others’ souls. He faced the temptation to have false hope that He could bring His kingdom in His way and His time, and the world could be His (see Luke 4:1-13). But every time despair or false hope reared its ugly head, Jesus placed His true hope in God. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
So this week, that is where I am headed. To the throne of grace.
Last week, I had to search for and remember my definition of hope and the enemies that desire to keep me from it. So this week, my desire is to stay firmly planted in true hope, real hope, hope that does not despair that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Hope that this earth is not home. It is place that God loves and even died to save (John 3:16), but it is a place that is broken, old, and dying from the curse of sin but will one day be renewed (Rev 21:1-8). I will not be tempted to fall off the razor edge of hope into despair of God or pride that I am God. Well, let’s face it. I might. But if I do, I have an anchor that ties me firmly to the throne of grace, to Jesus who is there to look long at me, and at Kathy, her family, and her friends, and to renew our hope when we need it the most.
Hope was Kathy’s word. And hope is still Kathy’s word. Because Jesus is Kathy’s God. And wherever Jesus stands, He stands with hope and healing in His Hands.
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