Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.
Scientists performed an experiment where they placed a rat in a tub of water. In about an hour the rat would drown. Then the scientists would place another rat in a tub of water, but would pluck it up out of the water every few minutes. The researchers found that the rats who were periodically picked up out of the water would swim in the water for over 24 hours.
What made the difference? No, it was not the rest that the second group of rats received from being picked up. The difference was that the first group of rats were given no hope of rescue while the second group had the hope that they would be eventually rescued.
Hope is an act of faith. When the future looks bleak, hope acts in the conviction that we will still find what we long for. We will act as if our longings will take place in the future despite how dismal things may be at present. Those who cling to their hope are far more resistant to the setbacks in life.
During World War II, 25,000 American soldiers were imprisoned by the Japanese. Living under inhumane conditions, it was no surprise that many soldiers died. But, the soldiers themselves noticed a difference between those most likely to die and those who survived. They realized that once a soldier lost all hope of getting out of prison camp alive, he would simply choose to die. The soldiers who survived acted with the confidence that, someday, they would be released. Robin Reader, in his work, Holding On To Hope, says these soldiers, “talked about the kind of homes they would have, the jobs they would choose, and even described the kind of person they would marry. . . Some even found ways to study subjects related to the kind of career they wanted to pursue. The doctors taken captive even formed medical societies.”
Hope provides an astonishing strength to our physical health as well. In 1997 the American Heart Association cited the work of Susan Everson who found that people with a high level of despair were 20 percent more likely to have hardening of the arteries than optimistic people. Everson noted, “This is the same magnitude of increased risk that one sees in comparing a pack-a-day smoker to a non-smoker.”
But just because you hope for something, does that mean your hopes will come true? No. The apostle Paul would often close his letters to various congregations by saying that he hoped to visit them soon in person. There was no guarantee that this would really happen.
But the Bible also speaks of a hope that is not based on our human longings, but on the promise of God. The Bible tells us repeatedly that we can rise up with confidence and courage when our hope is based on God’s word; that, when the dust settles, we shall stand victorious in his mercy.
(text copyright 2012 by Marty Kaarre)