Stewards of hope

Hope is the power to face our fears and, through Christ, overcome them, and to live as a people redeemed not only from sin, but also from fear, anxiety, doubt, and isolation.

Fear, hope, love, hate. Each short word is able to evoke a personal response; each is present in life … sometimes concurrently.

It would be so much neater if the good words and bad words were more easily distinguished. However, such is not the case in the current Western world, nor is it so in much of the rest of the world. Instead, much of current-culture talk centers on the “good news” of fear and the disparaging naiveté of hope. The call to arms echoes as humanity’s lack of preparedness for the coming “crisis” – whatever it may be – destines it to be handled with lead, not love.

There is worry in the land. Not just here but everywhere, because every thinking person realizes that what others are struggling with could easily become his or her experience.

How then shall we live as a steward of hope in a world that is fascinated and motivated by fear? How shall we live as a steward of love in a world that so quickly alienates and isolates the “stranger that is within thy gates”?

Hope and fear

Stewards of hope in a culture of fear… . What is it that gives us the ability to look at fear and have hope? What is it that allows that “peace that passes understanding,” that calm that makes no sense, to be present in my countenance when others despair?

How do you find peace when the phone rings and disrupts your world? That unexpected phone call resulting in bewilderment, as in, “Is this really real?” How does one respond to bad news? This is where faith helps us transform surprise and sorrow into hope and confidence.

Listen to what the apostle Paul tells the bewildered people of his day: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).

It is only in the context of a faith-view of this world that we can find perspective and peace. The wells from which the waters of peace and hope flow are: believing that God is good and desires our best; knowing that He is our shepherd who leads us by still waters; and knowing that we can trust Him.

How then shall a commissioned steward of hope live?

Is hope something one distributes, like food or water, in time of need? Is it something one can donate to be laid up for times of need? Is hope something that one can gain outside of a relationship?

Living with confidence in these times of uncertainty is the hallmark of a “steward of hope,” of one for whom the “peace that passes understanding” is a present experience, not simply a desired future state. “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

Living with hope in the present requires that we frankly acknowledge and address those things that cause fear in ourselves and in others. To merely dismiss fear is to make hope simplistic.

Levels of hope, levels of fear

There are three levels of hope, and, I would suggest, three levels of fear as their corollary.

Superficial: I hope/fear that I will/won’t have a good day! I hope/fear it doesn’t rain on the picnic. This kind of hope/fear is most common but means little, as the consequences of it being a bad or rainy day are not very significant.

Relational: I hope/fear she/he likes me! I hope/fear that she/he will/won’t go out with me again. I hope/fear she/he will/won’t work on our marriage. There is a much more significant consequence for that which is relational, personal, and typically painful. But with time you rise, work through it, and live another day. Both hope and fear have significantly more at stake at this level.

Existential: I hope/fear that I will/won’t recover from this cancer. This level of hope/fear – expressed in life-threatening situations – is about the very ability to continue to live.

It is at the second and third levels where most people are seeking – knowingly or unknowingly – for some form of hope. They are more than likely going to turn to those they know and trust in their time of need for help and hope.

To be stewards of hope, we must be integrated into the community. We must be there with them “incarnationally” and not just show up with the “van” during a crisis, as important as that can be.

To be with people, mingling among them, seeking to fulfill their needs … this is the Master’s way (Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing, p. 143).

Fear and hope are both agents of grace, as portrayed so well in the song Amazing Grace: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

Grace – unmerited favor with God – first taught us that our place in the heavenly scheme of things is that we are truly a people in need of restoration and forgiveness — a people who are under the death penalty and subject to the attacks of evil. But the same grace that shows us our destitute state also takes those fears away, through our relationship with Christ, and our hope in His salvation and His soon return. Grace relieves our fears through the hope we have in Christ, allowing us to face our reality and find assurance.

Hope does that. It is the power to face our fears and, through Christ, overcome them, and to live as a people redeemed not only from sin, but from fear, anxiety, doubt, and isolation as well. Hope empowers us to rise above fear and live a life of confidence in these uncertain times.

My youngest sister is a remarkable woman. She lived with the Haida Indians off the coast of Alaska, working to help provide education and learning to understand their native spirituality. She also lived for two years with the Inuit people above the Arctic Circle. She has been chased by polar bears and attacked by a shark, yet lives a quiet life.

On one occasion, while living in the Arctic, she and her dog, Chico, went camping. They hiked 12 miles from the village and set up a tent on a flat plateau the size of half a football field. Chico, normally a calm yet strong dog, became increasingly worried and restless. Judy looked to where he was casting anxious glances and saw at the plateau’s edge, 100 feet away, 18 big ears – peaked and pointed her way. Eighteen ears that belonged to nine big wolves!

Judy did not carry a gun, only her snow knife. What was she to do? Fear looked her straight in the eyes. What could she do? Deny the wolves’ existence? Wish them away as we did as kids? Sing happy songs to feel better? Jump in the tent and close the zipper?

With what she describes as a deep sense of calm, she clipped Chico on his leash, picked up her snow knife, and, not knowing what might happen, walked toward her fear. Step by step, as she moved closer, the wolves came up the rise, massive paws resting on the edge of the ridge. She talked to the wolves, quietly telling them that she wouldn’t taste very good! With her arms raised, she walked peacefully and boldly toward them, facing the greatest fear she had ever encountered. When she got within 50 feet, they broke rank and ran away, looking back at this being who confronted them.

Judy watched in silence. She slept well that night; she knew that the wolves would not be back. Hope had risen in her heart, and she had faced her fear. Where is our hope when fear comes knocking at our door? Where is our community’s hope when fear comes knocking at their door? Above all, the hope of true faith and love should embody the quiet transforming confidence that allows the reality of fear, present danger, even hatred, to be transformed into, and triumphed by, the confidence of hope.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).

Peter Bath (D.Min., Lancaster Theological Seminary) is vice president for mission and human resources at the 478-bed Florida Hospital in Tampa, Florida, in the United States. Dr. Bath has served more than 33 years in a variety of roles in Seventh-day Adventist health care, educational institutions, and church congregations.

This article originally appeared in Dynamic Steward, published by the Department of Stewardship, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Used by permission.