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Choosing hope in the midst of death

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Newlywed Syrian couple Nada Merhi, 18, and Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a wedding picture amid heavily damaged buildings in the war-ravaged city of Homs on Feb. 5. (Joseph Eid/Agence France-Presse)

The war in Syria has been in the news for so many years now that it is easy to become inoculated against the true gravity of the devastation that has been and continues to be wrought on its people. However, a recent report from the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR) hopes to remind us of just how high the cost has risen.

The report found that 470,000 people have been fatally wounded while more than one in ten have either been either killed or injured since the conflict began almost five years ago. And those numbers are only expected to rise as the war continues to escalate with Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, soon to be the site of the next great battle. As government forces, aided by Russian airstrikes and Iranian militia, creep ever closer to the city, 50,000 have already fled with more sure to follow in an effort to escape the seemingly inevitable confrontation.

However, despite that devastation, many continue to resist the temptation to give into the fear and sense of hopelessness that such circumstances naturally breed. Newlyweds Nada Merhi and Hassan Youssef epitomize this decision to choose hope. As a recent story in The Washington Post describes, the couple took their wedding photos amid the ruins of Homs, once Syria’s third largest city. Homs was one of the first major population centers to feel the full impact of the civil war when government forces bombed the site in a 2011 attempt to drive out the rebel forces that had made it a stronghold.

So while standing on war-torn streets and in the bare carcass of a nearly destroyed building, the couple joined the many before them that have chosen to commemorate their day of joy while surrounded by the grim reminders of death. In so doing, they remind a watching world that hope is a choice we make in the midst of our circumstances rather than an emotion determined by those circumstances.

That is a truth we tend to forget far too often but one that can be the key to remaining faithful in the midst of adversity. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).

The thing is, suffering only produces endurance for those who choose to endure. Endurance only produces character for those who remain faithful in the midst of it. And character only produces the hope that does not put us to shame when we choose to embrace that hope despite circumstances that do not always make it easy to do so. So while God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit and is of great help in making that choice, he leaves it to us to decide to what extent we will allow the Holy Spirit to influence us.

Ultimately, all of that brings us back to the basic truth that hope is a choice. If you lack hope, or the joy that so often accompanies it, then the fault is not with your circumstances but with how you have chosen to react to those circumstances. God wants to help you make that choice, but he won’t do it for you.

In this life, we inevitably go through times where hope seems like a distant and unattainable goal, but it doesn’t have to be that way. So the next time you begin to feel overwhelmed by your circumstances, choose hope and keep choosing it so long as your trials remain. God longs to help you make that choice. Will you let him?

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