I first set foot in South Africa in 1996. This was two years after their first democratically held elections. The icon Nelson Mandela was president. Every thing seemed so new. I knew little about South Africa when I moved here as a 19-year-old but I caught on quickly. This was a nation in transition and it was happening right before my very eyes.
Every day was living history. Simple things left me amazed. A black man driving a car in a formally white area would be exciting. One time I explained to my white South African friend that when black and white people married, they did not have mentally disabled babies. I then marvelled as this new information registered with him. Seeing new businesses started by formally marginalised people felt like a reason for a victory parade. Every thing was just so full of hope.
I have now lived here for 13 years and am facing a territory that I never anticipated. I’m struggling to hope for the very nation that defined it for the world. This took me completely by surprise.
I have always been able to find a reason for hope. Even when there is literally no reason to be hopeful. One of my students would be hauled off to jail but I had hope that as soon as he got out, things could be turned around. Hope was always there.
For some reason, life chipped away at hope. I didn’t even know it was happening. Little by little. News headline by news headline. Corruption story after corruption story. Electricity blackout after electricity blackout.
I can’t point to one exact moment. One day, I woke up and realised, “I’m not sure how South Africa’s story ends.” This was a painful realisation for me. It is uncharted waters. Whereas hope was always there, if even a glimmer… I could now no longer sense it or perceive it.
Somehow, through the years, I had embraced the South African past-time of despair for our collective feature.
In the midst of this, God spoke a question. “What happens when those who carry within them the hope of the world, no longer have hope for the world?”
Initially this seemed more painful than helpful. What sort of Christian am I? Not a hopeful or helpful one it seemed.
I let the question turn in my heart for weeks and months. I just sat in it.
God brought me to these two important realisations:
Hopelessness is not a place we can reside in for long as Christians.
When those who carry the hope of the world no longer have hope for the world… it is a dark place indeed. A place of despair.
This is not a word of condemnation. It was a word of protection. I could not stay in this place. It would kill my vision. It would kill my motivation. It would kill my spirit. It would leave me in a place of personal despair. When we find ourselves in a place of hopelessness for a nation, community or situation then we need to be active to get support and help. Hopelessness it not something we just “hope” goes away.
Hope is not the guarantee of an outcome, it is the promise of the Lord’s presence in a situation.
I don’t hope because I have a guarantee in South Africa’s future. I have hope because the Lord is and will be present.
Psalm 130 describes hope as the act of waiting for the Lord’s presence like a watchmen waits for the dawn.
The Lord’s presence.
Do I know what direction South Africa will head? No, I really don’t. What about France, Syria, Libya or the United States? We don’t know the outcome.
Hope says, “I will not stop straining to see on the horizon the arrival of God in this situation.” I don’t know the future but I can wait with an expectation that God will be there. Just like a night watchman knows the sun will appear on the horizon.
I don’t know what the future holds but I know who will be there. Hope is the act of straining to see glimmers of Him where there appears only the darkness of night.
Hope is in a “who” not a “what”. Hope is not the guarantee of what will happen. It is the guarantee of who will be there.
I had become consumed in “what is happening” in this nation. I needed to recast my eyes on the hope of the world. I needed my soul to wait for the Lord once again.
I look beyond the signs of imminent doom. I find ways to strain towards the horizon, nervously longing to see how God might appear in each situation.
Hope never denies the painful realities of the world. Hope see’s those realities and has a quiet confidence that they will not have the final word.
Hope is rising, slowly and tentatively. It is a glimmer. The very first signs of dawn. That is the very essence of hope.
Sitting, waiting, straining to see God appear, like a watchman for the dawn.
How are you doing with hope for your nation, community or situation?
Are you hoping in a “what” or a “who”?
What would it look like for you to be a watchmen waiting for the dawn?
Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee