I still remember when I discovered as a small child that the world would lie to me, using my hoping, yearning heart as bait to sell me a product. Burger King aired a television commercial with cartoons that convinced me that the toy in their kid’s meal would be nothing short of life-changing. I begged and pleaded with my parents to take me to get the toy. I nagged them into submission. When they finally surrendered and took me to Burger King, I did not even bother with the food; my hands went straight to the little plastic package containing . . . a pencil topper. Even at that young age I realized: I had been scammed!
I was an easy mark. God gave me an oversized hunger for meaning. From my earliest childhood memories, intense and visceral longing has been at the core of my experience. I yearn for that which should be, but is not yet. I feel in my bones a conviction that there is a deeper, more beautiful reality to be experienced. Most troubling of all, I have a gnawing sense that I myself am not as I should be. I feel a deep disconnect in my life, and I yearn for a truer, more authentic way of being in the world.
This last part has been especially difficult to accept. I have always found it easy to critique the world, but turning this fierce critique around on myself is more challenging. During my teens and early twenties, I experienced short bursts of awareness: I would see the disorder of my thoughts, desires and inclination, the darkness and despair at my center. Yet, for the most part, this awareness only served to increase my fury against the world and those around me. I was willing to do anything to make the world a better place, anything except acknowledge my own brokenness and sin.
Fortunately the Holy Spirit has a lot of experience with cutting through delusion. Thanks to God’s intervention in my life, I have come to trust in Jesus to reveal the ways that I rebel against God and to teach me how to be his disciple. Over time, I have learned that Jesus offers the most meaningful answer to my hard-wired yearning for ultimate meaning and purpose. He is my hope.
In my experience, authentic hope is impossible without Christ’s light showing me my broken condition and inviting me to embrace my powerlessness and need for God’s intervention. That is not to say that there are not other things in which we can choose to hope. Today there are many entities vying for our trust and loyalty: political candidates, soft drink manufacturers, the military and charitable nonprofits, just to name a few. All want to direct our hope towards themselves. “Hope in us. We can deliver.”
What do these individuals and institutions promise us? Sometimes it is security or wealth. Other times we are offered freedom, sex or status. Some of the most seductive are those that offer us a sense of belonging and purpose as part of a greater whole. Ultimately, the implied pay-off is always the same: “We can answer that deepest yearning that you carry inside.”
The world is full of counterfeit hopes, elaborate imitations of the satisfying goodness and steadfastness for which we yearn. Rather than directing us to look within and encounter the truth about ourselves in the face of Jesus Christ, the powers of this world are seeking to entice us with their baubles. They would have us place our hope in our nation, a sports team, military might or Coca-Cola — anything, as long as we stay addicted to their spectacle and alienated from Christ, who is the source of all true power and healing.
The many false hopes of the world are seductive precisely because they do not ask us to face the darkness within. It is easy for us to project our darkness out onto the world rather than face the truth within. We find real hope when we are ready to see ourselves as we truly are, in all our brokenness and weakness, and are transformed, one day at a time.
The world will always have another solution for us to try, another product or service or institution that it says will finally fulfill us. But for those of us who have experienced the revealing, transforming, healing light of Jesus, we know that our only true hope is in him.