I walked around the memorial grounds slowly, the strong Cambodian sun casting harsh shadows behind the surrounding trees as the audio tour playing in my ears recounted the narrative of the brutal violence that forever marked this space. A huge part of me wanted to tear out my earbuds and run as far away as I could, but I kept walking. Slowly. Listening. Caught, with every step and every story, between tears and numbness.
It’s a place I’ll never forget: the memorial at the killing field of Choeung Ek, just outside of Phnom Penh, built on one of the most deadly sites of the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge genocide. Even having walked the grounds, it was hard to believe that the site of something so heartbreaking and vile could exist right next to lush and far-reaching rice fields.
As I neared the end of the audio tour, I listened to the incredible story of a man who escaped this violence and started an organization committed to healing for victims and education for Cambodian youth. He spoke about learning to forgive the men he watched kill his mother and sister. And, he ended with five powerful words that will always stick with me:“Without hope, we have nothing.”
Without hope: nothing.
There’s something about that reality which we immediately understand on both an emotional and practical level. We live in a world where earthquakes wreak havoc on poverty-stricken developing nations, sometimes even twice in the space of a single week. In a world where children and labourers are exploited and trafficked. Where marriages fall apart. Where people die everyday of curable diseases and from diseases modern medicine hasn’t yet been able to beat. Where people are killed or discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. Where millions of children are orphans. Where refugees die at sea whilst risking their lives for the slim possibility of asylum.
Needless to say, we don’t have to look far to see that we’re completely desperate for something beyond ourselves. We need something that reaches into the darkness and brings some much longed for light. Something that brings a reprieve – if even for a moment – from the torrential downpour that soaks us to the bone. Something that speaks of the possibility of things being better someday. Somewhere. Somehow.
We need hope.
But, hope is a tricky thing. Because hope itself can do nothing to comfort us. Hope for the sheer sake of hoping is empty and, like unrequited love, will leave us heartbroken and disappointed. Hope finds its substance in the object of our hope.
Jesus alone is the true hope of the nations and the hope of our hearts. Only He is the object of hope that will never leave us disappointed.
In Psalm 20, David boldly proclaims, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” We certainly don’t understand the value or prestige of horses and chariots to the same degree as they did in the time of the Psalms, but we do understand putting our hope in social systems and economic stability and in political ideologies and human solidarity. And, those are good things, things we should work towards and wholeheartedly support as they align with the values of the Kingdom and the heart of God. But they themselves cannot become the object of our hope.
We don’t need the kind of cheap hope that asks us to put our stock solely in the social initiatives of people or exclusively in the efforts of organizations, governments, or agencies. We don’t need the kind of idealistic hope that gets slapped on political campaign posters. We don’t need the naive hope that jumps to romanticized optimism and false narratives of success. And, we certainly don’t need the kind of immature hope that suggests that we bury our heads in the sand, ignorant of the brokenness that surrounds us on all sides and resides even in our own hearts.
We need a hope much deeper than that.
We need the kind of hope that can anchor us in the truth that things may not be how they should be, but there’s a promise that one day they will be. That there is a God who reigns with goodness, majesty, justice and truth, and who holds all things in His hands. That there is a Saviour who took on death and sin and evil and beat them once and for all. That this temporary life isn’t the end. That this broken world isn’t our true home. That even when circumstances feel or look like a torrential downpour, we have a God who is always with us. That with Christ and in Christ, the darkness will never overcome the light.
And the only place where that kind of hope is found is in Jesus. Only He is the true hope of the nations and the hope of our hearts. Only He is the object of hope that will never leave us disappointed. The author of Hebrews said it like this: “Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”
Strong and trustworthy. Sure and steady. An anchor for our souls. This is who Jesus is.
And one of the most beautiful things that happens when we put our hope in Jesus and anchor our hope in the Kingdom of God that is both here and not yet, is that we can more fully embrace this in-between life.
Our lives unfold in the constant tension between beauty and brokenness. Between joy and mourning. The tension is so palpable, we can see it all around us. We live it. We feel it.
And so, we don’t just need hope that jumps past pain. We need the kind of steady hope that gives us time and space to weep and to mourn. The kind of hope that doesn’t shy away from the darkness or the injustice, but steps into it with boldness and steady confidence.
But we also desperately need hope that is still and patient and persistent because it knows that its true source never runs dry. Hope that celebrates the wonder of life and the miracle of breath in our lungs. Hope that embraces time to dance and laugh and to celebrate the wonder and the whimsy of life and all the ways that life and love and peace sprout and grow, regardless of how hard the ground may seem or how much opposition seems to stand in the way.
Because, we also live in a world of stunning beauty. Where sunsets and sunrises over oceans and mountain ranges and prairies take our breath away. Where cities are hubs of creativity and culture. Where stories of solidarity and community resound louder than those of division or isolation. Where people fall in love and where solid marriages withstand trials. Where kids are born or adopted into families where they are loved deeply. Where economic resources are used creatively for the benefit of many, not the elevation of a few. Where people are rescued, given access to clean water, and go to sleep in warm beds with full stomachs.
And, so, we cling to the steady hope of Christ that gives us the space to cry and laugh and work hard to combat injustice – all in the same space. We continue to pray that God would break our hearts for what breaks His, that He would give us eyes to see things as He sees them, and that He would give us feet ready to walk into dark places with the unwavering hope of Christ in us. And we celebrate and dance and savour all the places where beauty can be found – not because things are perfect or even easy, but because even in the hurt and imperfection, the light always shines brighter, joy resounds, and true hope – hope that is deep, steady, and anchored in Christ – will never leave us disappointed.