When the Dam of Despair Breaks, Hold the Rope of Hope

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“You know this would be a lot easier if you just left her. You have every biblical right to do so.”

These well-intentioned words came from a friend and confidant. My wife, Angel, and I were trying to repair a marriage in complete shambles. After several years of my neglect, my wife had rejected God and me emphatically and entered into a series of affairs.

But she had repented and we were trying to, alongside counselors and mentors, walk through a process of healing and restoration. Problem was, what had started with the confession of one affair had turned into another and another and another. I was crushed, broken, and numb. My friend was exasperated. Neither he nor I could get our minds around when this tumble down Alice’s rabbit hole might end.

Hope was slipping through our fingers and, along with it, any chance at God’s restorative work.

Heaven to the Rescue

There was no reason for hope, humanly speaking—not for our marriage and certainly not for our vocational calling. There is no reason Angel and I should still be married. There is no reason Angel should be a counselor today. There is no reason I should be a pastor. And yet God rescued us. He brought hope where there was no hope, life where there was no life, trust where there was no trust.

The process was long and messy, but it was profoundly good. And God’s hope propelled it. His grace accomplished it.

Yet even when we know the power of God’s hope, we can be tempted to hopelessness. “I don’t even know why we’re here. Nothing is going to change.” I’ve heard those words many times in counseling sessions. I’ve felt those words from the posture, from the hollow eyes, from the sighs of those I’ve counseled.

Who is it you don’t believe can change? Your boss? Your employee? Your friend? Your son or daughter? Your spouse? You?

Have You Given Up?

Who have you given up on? Be honest. You’ve probably given up on someone somewhere. Do you know the theological term for not having hope for someone, for giving up on them? To damn. That’s right. When you lose hope in someone you’re damning them.

The latter half of Romans 1 details the hopeless situation of those who have turned against God. In chilling language, Paul says that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). He explains that those in rebellion “are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20), and then he goes on three times in the next five verses to explain how God damns them: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts” (Rom. 1:24), and “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (Rom. 1:26), and finally, “God gave them up to a debased mind” (Rom. 1:28).

On those four words—“God gave them up”—hang the icy chill of damnation.

Only God can damn. We should never give up on anyone, never lose hope for anyone. Jesus tells us that we are not only to love our neighbor, but also our enemy. And Paul explains that this love has the shape of hope. As Paul insists elsewhere, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

Don’t lose hope. Not because your child, your boss, your employee, or your spouse is capable on their own of changing, but because you believe in the Spirit of God, who can transform any heart, who can resurrect the dead, and who can restore relationships beyond repair.

Enemy of Hope

Ours is a culture of cynicism—untrusting, snarky cynicism. And cynicism chokes out hope. Cynicism is a helpful tool: It protects us from the disappointment of transformation that never happens, from the disappointment of broken promises. But the kingdom of God is not built on cynicism, and you will build a wall between you and the Spirit’s power when you cash out your hope for cynicism. There may be appropriate times to remove yourself from emotional and relational entanglement from another person, but we are to never lose hope.

One of the most remarkable things my wife and I have the privilege of witnessing as a counselor and a pastor is transformation invading the bleakest of situations. We’ve sat across from dozens of individuals and couples who’ve said, verbally or nonverbally: “I have no hope. Things can’t change.” In those moments, we often tell the individual or couple that we will carry the torch of hope for them until they can pick it up themselves. They may not believe change can come. But we do. Not because of who we are or who they are, but because of who God is.

We’ve seen it happen time after time. Change comes. Couples reunite after affairs, porn addictions are broken, the chains of anger are destroyed, cycles of despair are transformed.

Path of Hope

How can you walk the path of hope? Romans contains more references to hope than does any other New Testament book. Paul begins with a bleak picture, but it doesn’t end that way. Here’s how he encourages us to promote hope when we see despair:

  • Look to the cross and rejoice in the hope of your salvation (Rom. 5:2).
  • Consider how God is building in you endurance, character, and hope amid trials (Rom. 5:4).
  • Ponder how hope releases you from shame (Rom. 5:5).
  • Reflect on how hope builds patience (Rom. 8:25).
  • Let your hope spark rejoicing (Rom. 12:12).
  • Consider how God’s redemptive story gives you hope (Rom. 15:4).
  • Ruminate on how God’s character is marked by hope (Rom. 15:13).
  • Remember that the Spirit residing in you results in hope (Rom. 15:13).

Do you long for transformation in some area of your life? A relationship? An addiction? Start with hope. God can do it! Let the seeds of hope germinate in your heart as you trust in the Holy Spirit, who can do far more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

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