“I don’t even know why we’re here. Nothing is going to change.” I’ve heard those words many times in counseling sessions. And I’ve felt those words from the posture, from the hollow eyes, and from the sighs of those I have counseled.
Who is it that you don’t believe can change? Your boss? Your employee? Your friend? Your son or daughter? Your spouse? Yourself?
Who have you given up on?
Be honest. You’ve probably given up on someone somewhere. You know what the theological term is for not having hope for someone? For giving up on them? Damning. That’s right. When you lose hope in someone or something, you’re damning it.
The latter half of Romans 1 speaks of the hopeless situation of those who have turned against God. In chilling language, Paul explains that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…”[i] He explains that those in rebellion “are without excuse,”[ii] 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…”[iii] and that “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions,”[iv] and finally “God gave them up to a debased mind…”[v]
On those four words—“God gave them up”–hang the icy chill of damnation.
Only God can damn. We can never give up on anyone. We can 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 that this love has the shape of hope. In the most powerful passage ever written about love, Paul says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Don’t lose hope. Not because your child, your boss, your employee, your spouse, or yourself is capable on his own of the change that he or she has have failed at time and time again, but because we believe in the Spirit of God, who can transform any heart, who can resurrect the dead, and who can restore relationships beyond repair.
Ours is a culture of cynicism. And cynicism chokes out hope. Cynicism is a helpful tool: it protects us from the disappointment of transformation that never happens, it protects us 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 power of the Spirit when you cash out your hope for cynicism. This isn’t to say that there aren’t 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 coming into the bleakest of situations.
Angel and I are living proof of that. We were in the bleakest of situations. There is no reason we should still be married. There is no reason she should be a counselor today. There is no reason I should be a pastor. And yet God rescued us.
And I promise you, we’ve sat across from dozens of individuals and couples who 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 that change can come. But we do. Not because of who we are or who they are, but because of who God is.
And, then, we’ve seen it happen, time after time, change has come. Couples have been reunited after affairs, porn addictions have been broken, the chains of anger have been destroyed, cycles of despair have transformed. Because God is bigger. The Spirit brings hope.
Do you long for transformation in some area of your life? A relationship? An addiction? Start with hope. God can do it! I promise he can. Let the seeds of hope spring in your heart as you trust in the Holy Spirit who can do far more than we can “ask or imagine.”[vi]
[i] Romans 1:18
[ii] Romans 1:20
[iii] Romans 1:24
[iv] Romans 1:26
[v] Romans 1:28
[vi] Ephesians 3:20