We are happy to have Rhonda Smith as a guest contributor this week on the Editor’s Corner. Rhonda serves as a social worker at a nursing home and writes on faith and spirituality.
Check out more of Rhonda’s writing at rhondasmithwrites.com.
Christmas is the season of hope.
We remember the promise of our Savior, recognize our need for Christ and the hope we have in him, and we hope in his coming again. It seems antithetical that we turn the corner to New Year’s and place hope in ourselves. We hope to become better versions of ourselves. We hope that we will stick to our resolutions. We hope for mended relationships, healthier lifestyles, and financial freedom all while placing hope in our own ability to do better.
In Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal, she writes an entry in which she prays:
“Dear God, about hope, I am somewhat at a loss. It is so easy to say I hope to—the tongue slides over it. I think perhaps hope can only be realized by contrasting it with despair. And I am too lazy to despair. Please don’t visit me with it, dear Lord, I would be so miserable. Hope, however, must be something distinct from faith. I unconsciously put it in the faith department. It must be something positive that I have never felt. It must be a positive force, else why the distinction between it and faith?”
Why the distinction?
In 1 Corinthians 13:13, the two are separated: “But now faith, hope, and love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The apostle Paul made the virtues distinct and he instructs the reader to abide in all of them, so there must be a difference.
When O’Connor wrote that entry, I wonder if she was recalling Psalm 42:5: “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” The psalmist commands his soul to hope in God again. A reminder that there is no hope without despair. Humans inevitably hope, even when all hope seems to be lost. The Wikipedia definition of hope is, “an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.” It seems O’Conner related when she described hope as “something positive” that she had “never felt.” Hope is something familiar to everyone yet difficult to describe using words. It is something we look to in the future, but for the believer it is not just a vague feeling for a positive outcome or an “optimistic state of mind.” It is not positive thoughts we assign to our dreams and resolutions.
In Ephesians 2:12, Paul points out that we have no hope without God. We are in complete despair without him. Our faith in Christ is our hope. So, while hope is not possible without despair, it is also not possible without faith. We cannot hope in something that we do not believe in. The distinction then is that our faith in God’s promise in Christ is our hope for the future. Separate, yet always together. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Perhaps, when O’Connor was confessing she had never felt hope, she was considering the fullness of Christ we are waiting for but have not seen. The hope that we see in Titus 2:13: “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”
O’Connor penned another entry in her prayer journal which read, “Give me the grace, dear God, to adore You for even this I cannot do for myself. Give me the grace to adore You with the excitement of the old priests when they sacrificed a lamb to You…Give me the grace to be impatient for the time when I shall see You face to face and need no stimulus than that to adore You.” While we are unable to fully grasp that hope now, we can rest in the promise that we will have that blessed hope with the appearing of Jesus.
The first question in The New City Catechism asks, “What is our only hope in life and death?” The answer is: “That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.”
The hope we place on ourselves is an empty hope. All of our dreams and resolutions can only be found when we acknowledge that we are not our own but belong to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ. If I am lazy this year may I be too lazy to despair, but when I do despair, I am thankful my hope is in God and I praise him for his presence and promises.
 Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, 1st ed. (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 17.
 All scripture quotations come from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
 O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, 8–9.
 The New City Catechism (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2017), 16–17.