The New Year: The Humility of Hope and Arrogance of Despair

On New Year’s Eves, we look with hope toward the coming year. But sometimes, we look ahead and can’t see any reason the coming year will be better than the last. Few things are sadder than beginning a new year with no relief in sight—no signs of hope. It is easy to let despair come in and extinguish even the embers of hope.

But this is an instance where what we don’t know can save us. The writer of Psalm 71 declares:

But as for me, I will hope continually, and will praise Thee yet more and more. My mouth shall tell of Thy righteousness, and Thy salvation all day long; for I do not know the sum of them.  (v.14—15)

The stubborn defiance of the phrase “But as for me” resonates at a time when news and media blasts us with bad news and the next wave of the pandemic. It is counter-cultural to hope. One of the bases of our hope is the recognition of how much we don’t know. We do not know the sum (literally, number) of God’s righteousness and salvation.

God is always working behind the scenes—working in small ways, in gradual ways, in hidden places. God sets ambushes for those we love.Our hope is not in what we see God doing; our hope is in the character of God. Our hope is also in the power of God to go where we can’t, to speak love and truth to those who won’t or can’t hear us. We must humbly declare that we do not know and cannot see all the ways God may work in the coming year. Our humility opens the door to hope.

Despair can masquerade as humility. It can present itself as down-to-earth realism. But the arrogance of despair is that it looks at the slice (big or small) of reality that is discouraging and declares it all there is and will ever be. It is okay to be discouraged because we have not yet seen what we have hoped and prayed for. But we must always live humbly, admitting that at any moment everything could change. Light could break through the darkness. What do we know?

We have all heard the stories of those who have gotten lost and disoriented in a blizzard and in the morning are found dead a few yards from their cabin. If they had only kept moving forward and kept hoping. We never know how close or far we are from a breakthrough. We never know how close or far a loved one is from salvation. We don’t know what goodness God has stored up for us in the coming year, so we humbly hope. We do know our God is good, and His mercy is over all His works.

We hope because we have seen how in a dark time of human history, a light shone over a humble manger. Angels sang, and despair’s lies were vanquished. The hope of the world was born.

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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