The Way Back Forward
We can’t go back to the way things were.
I’ve heard this said a few times during the pandemic - about how life as we have known it is now irrevocably changed. But last week, the truth of this statement hit me for all it was worth.
It reminded me of one of the closing scenes in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King, where Frodo says:
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand... there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.”
Every time I watch this scene, I weep. I weep because I’ve known wounds that will never truly heal. I weep because I want to go back to a time where I didn’t feel this way.
But I can’t. There is no going back. I’m not the same as I once I was.
And it’s not just me. Each of us has our own path of pain, injustice, and brokenness to walk and some of our wounds seem unhealable this side of eternity.
So if this is our truth, how can we move forward in hope?
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in His word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with Him is full redemption.
Psalm 130:5-7 NIV
Biblical hope is different from optimism. It is anchored in the character of God rather than on circumstances. Biblical hope looks back at God’s past faithfulness as a basis for a future expectation. In the Old Testament, one of the Hebrew words for “hope” is “qavah” (קָוָה) which is derived from the root word meaning “cord.” It involves the idea of tension, like when a cord is pulled tightly, waiting to be released. It is active - a living, breathing anticipation for God to act.
In the New Testament, the Greek word “elpis” (ἐλπίς) is used to describe this anticipation. It is also rooted in a person - the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - rather than in circumstances. It is a living, active “elpis” that can bring about permanent change and redemption in people (1 Peter 1:3).
This redemption is something I have seen in my own life.
I have a Bible verse hanging above my bed. It’s a scripture that my late wife felt was the theme for our relationship: But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light (Ephesians 5:13). We saw our relationship as evidence of God’s redeeming nature at work. God took our brokenness, restored us, and joined us together in a new way we had each hoped for. If God can restore me and bring something beautiful out of my brokenness and despair, He can do it for anyone.
This is the nature of God. To make the “valley of trouble into a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15). The Lord can use any darkness to shine a light, if we allow Him to. Things that were once bad, broken, or tarnished, are not only made right and whole again, but can also lead the way into something new, something of hope. This is our “qavah,” our “elpis.”
But our journey is not yet done. I would be remiss to not include one important aspect of what I think Biblical hope is. I hope you’re sitting down for this.
Biblical hope acknowledges that things are bad and that it might not get better this side of eternity - but we choose to anchor ourselves in the character of God anyway. This is a delicate balance to hold in our mortal hands and is a seemingly impossible paradox to understand. Yet it is what I believe to be an integral key to moving forward in faith.
We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, and the redemption of our bodies as He promised. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not see, we must wait patiently and confidently for it.
I weep because justice might never be fully realized here on earth. I weep because the effects of a pandemic cannot be reversed. I weep because I still, five years later, grieve the death of my wife. And yet, I have hope. I have hope because I know that things will not always remain this way. I have hope because there is something more to come. Like a cord wound up tightly, my hope is waiting to be released.
There is a balance here that we are to hold delicately in our souls - a constant wrestling match between the seemingly passive nature of waiting and resigning ourselves to a fatalistic God-ordained outcome versus the active anticipation of God’s redeeming work being done here on earth.
I’m not sure how all of this plays out. I’m still scratching the surface of what this means in my own life, especially in light of all that is going on in our society right now. What I do know is that hope is never passive. It is always active, in whatever shape it expresses itself. Perfect love, perfect justice, perfect peace might never come this side of eternity, but we can still look back at the failures and shortcomings of our past and bring our hearts, souls, and our broken systems to be continually restored while we wait for God’s “full redemption” (Psalm 130:7) to be brought about.
So while we can’t go back to the way things were, we can look back in order to move forward with hope.
We can look back at God’s character, anchoring ourselves in His unchanging, uncompromising love and mercy.
We can look back at the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the scriptures and in our own lives, as a note-to-self that He can and will do it again.
We can look back at the opportunities we missed and the wrongs we committed, as invitations for Him to weave His redeeming ways, learning from our mistakes and stepping into a new path of life.
And so, in this regard, the only way forward is back. It is the only way forward I know. It is the way of hope. And I choose hope.