And the Opposite of Hope Is…?

For all its complexity, the Bible has a habit of presenting things along pairs of trajectories.  Characters in the Bible, like us, are either acting in faith or in fear; out of love or hate; and hope, or, well, hopelessness.  So what is the opposite of hope?  I was struck by this comment in A Praying Life by Paul Miller (p78ff):

“Cynicism is taught in our schools, embraced by our culture, and lifted up as ideal.  It seems insidious to me.  Somehow these dulled, partial truths often feel more real to me than the truths taught by Scripture.  It is easier for me to feel skepticism and nothing than to feel deep passion.  So cynicism takes root and ‘feels’ more real to me than truth.  I know that I am not alone in my struggle with cynicism.  But most of us are not aware that it is a problem, or that it is taking hold in our hearts.  It just feels like we can’t find the joy in things, like we are too aware to trust or hope.”

Miller goes on to resonate with these words from his friend, as he states,  “Cynicism creates a numbness toward life.”  How true this is.  Somehow there is an air of sophistication in some Christian circles today that scoffs at others, at their theology, their practice, their hope, their lack of sophistication.  Yet this is not living.  It is the pseudo-action of being on the sidelines, protected from hurt, but paralysed from doing anything.  Back to Miller:

“To be cynical is to be distant.  While offering a false intimacy of being “in the know,” cynicism actually destroys intimacy.  It leads to a creeping bitterness that can deaden and even destroy the spirit.”

Yet in contrast, he goes on to state,

“A praying life is just the opposite.  It engages evil.  It doesn’t take no for an answer. The psalmist was in God’s face, hoping, dreaming, asking.  Prayer is feisty.  Cynicism, on the other hand, merely critiques.  It is passive, cocooning itself from the passions of the great cosmic battle we are engaged in.  It is without hope.”

Somehow I doubt that the world is watching most of the church and pondering what is the reason for the hope that is in us.  It seems to have been squeezed out somewhere along the line.  But hope is a far greater feature of the character of God than cynicism.  Somehow we need to dare to look at God’s heart and allow our hearts to be stirred with hope again.  Just imagine the implications in our prayer lives, in our churches, in our giving, in our involvement in missions, in our families, in our conversations, in our responses to the broken world we live in.

As Paul wrote, ‘may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.’ (Rom.15:13)

Am I just being cynical by observing a lack of hope in many today?  What do you think?

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5 Responses to And the Opposite of Hope Is…?

  1. Rob Trenckmann November 9, 2010 at 1:56 pm #


    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post. I hadn’t thought along these lines before, and I find them very helpful.


  2. Huw November 9, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    Yes, thanks Peter. Again very helpful and very challenging.

    I was thinking recently about how much contemporary Christian thought owes more to Modernism than its thinker might dare to imagine – and this is another example.

    I must say (again) I am guilty as charged. In my personal experience, cynicism is another form of self-protection (no hopes to be disappointed = no disappointment), and I find it interesting that you (or rather Miller) draws on the example of prayer – I’ve recently realised that particular periods of of “prayerless-ness” in my own life have been directly related to periods of cynicism, or related forms of doubting God’s goodness and/or kindness.

    Challenging indeed. Thank you.

  3. Stan Cooper November 10, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    Hi Peter, read your article with interest. It seems that so many now are neglecting the powerhouse of the the church, PRAYER!!! As I was reading your article I was thinking about the river of God, and how much it speaks of stepping out of our comfort zones to live life fully in the flow of His spirit. The whole point of faith is that it hopes for what is not seen, and in our society nowadays it seems people only want to deal in actualities, what they can see. Is this where the body of Christ is losing out? Every church should be active and indeed on fire at prayer meetings, be it individual or corporate, yet we see numbers dwindling in prayer groups: it being seen as something “others” do!!!! Hope deferred makes the heart grow weary we read, but without hope where is the foundation stone of our faith. We should be seeing growing groups at prayer and constant testimonies in response to Our prayer answering God. Is it cynicysm or lethargy we are experiencing? Every blessing Stan

  4. Ron November 12, 2010 at 1:46 am #

    A good word here, Peter: thanks. As I tracked with Miller’s points on cynicism you’ve brought to our attention I made a small jump to my morning Bible reading in Luke, where Jesus faced his time of wilderness temptations. Particularly Satan’s claim that all the world’s authority and glory “has been delivered to me” [4:6].

    It’s striking that Jesus didn’t dismiss that claim but came, instead, to challenge its basis by asserting the priority of worshipping God and no one else. Adam had been given that authority and glory by God but then gave himself over to the Serpent’s words rather than to God’s word in the Fall. And without quite realizing what he had done he had become a follower of death rather than life. His new father was the source of all skepticism and self-absorption. Yet Christ simply offered a true word that shattered the serpent’s false promises. How? By reorienting us to the source of enduring hope: our delight that comes through worshipping and enjoying our Creator.

    So thanks for letting my mind roam a bit through the field of God’s grace!

  5. Christopher Hoppe November 18, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    I’m trying to understand your comparison to modernism? Are you saying that cynicism comes out of modernism or Christians benefit from modernism? I was just confused by your statement, please help me weed it out! I’m taking my church through a class on worldviews and we just got through the dangers of modernism and it’s connection to Darwinism, naturalism, and secular humanism which are philosophies that go against the Christian (Biblical) Worldview. I hope you’re not saying that the Christian can benefit from this! Not trying to be offensive, just trying to grasp it your comment. Maybe this is just too deep for me this morning and I’m missing the point! Help!