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A Little Hope Goes a Long Way

What lies ahead for our world in 2003? More suffering. I’m sure of it. But I’m not a pessimist because I believe God will continue to supply us with sprinklings of hope. They will swell within a people who continue to look for a kingdom that reflects the love and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the edition contains a mix, but not a balance. But in fairness, achieving balance wasn’t a stated goal. Even so, by the time I turned to the last page, I was depressed. Assigning some pictures to more than one category, here’s my tally: photos depicting wonder—5; joy—6; hope—9; and suffering—35.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
That’s the nature of the evening news, too. Take your pick: Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw or an anchor on one of the cable news networks. The news is all the same. It’s mostly bad. It’s depressing.  
It’s not their fault, of course. I assume their news teams choose the most important news to report. Occasionally, there’s room for a heart-warming story, but mostly the pictures and stories reflect a world that continues to advance technologically. Unfortunately, for every technological advance, new ways are discovered to use the technology to build more mechanisms that destroy people and property, peace and prosperity. 
More so than any other time in my life, I feel uneasy about the future. I’ve never been a pessimist and I don’t want to be now. History testifies that we’ve been through worse times. But I’m seeing things happen that signal that the times ahead may yield as many pictures of suffering as the times we’ve recently been through. 
One of the largest deployments of U.S. Army personnel since World War II is under way. Spouses, children, parents and friends are waving goodbye to brave soldiers willing to put their lives on the line for our country. War. War. War. The drums are beating. It’s a heavy feeling. Our president believes that to do nothing could actually mean more suffering in the future. He may be right. But who can know for sure? 
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Sept. 11, 2001, changed us as individuals and as a nation. On the front end of life we are still going to work and raising kids. On the back end of life we are still downsizing in retirement and trying to enjoy some fruits of our labor. But Sept. 11 showed us that we are vulnerable as a nation. We don’t have blinders on any more. We now know that our way of life can be changed in the blink of an eye. Therefore, our nation is no longer willing to be only reactionary before it flexes its military muscle. 
No longer can we sit in our easy chairs and watch the evening news and dismiss the political, social, economic or religious rumblings in a strange culture and consider it all as “their problem.” The world has gotten smaller. We feel the ripples from a pebble dropped in the ocean on the other side of the world. 
While other countries try to solve only their own problems, our country is burdened with solving the problems of the world. If we don’t, who will? We seem to have accepted such a heavy mantle that comes with our prosperity and power. But how long will our nation be able to hold the world together?  
We are having a difficult enough problem keeping our own country together. The news on the home front sometimes seems as bad as that in other countries. As greed and unethical practices collapse companies and drive down the stock market, as our prisons run out of room to house inmates, as our families fall apart and children find pleasure and attention in all the wrong places, as the bar for dignity and decency have been lowered so low we are no longer shocked, we seem to be headed for disaster. 
Are you depressed yet? Well, let me conclude with a brief rebuttal to these pessimistic remarks. I believe one thing is greater than all of the evils of humanity. It is the hope of humanity, the hope that the greatest of evil minds and intentions can be overcome by the hope of men and women, boys and girls, who refuse to allow hardship and suffering to overwhelm their lives and steal all their joy. 
Here’s the secret of hope’s power: a little bit goes a long way. We don’t have as many photos of hopeful moments to balance out the suffering ones. Hope is like yeast. A little bit goes a long way, and it eventually affects the entire batch of dough. Jesus once compared the kingdom of God to some yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough (Mt 13:33). 
Dr. Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who was sent to a concentration camp during the Holocaust, observed that a prisoner did not live very long after hope was lost. But even the slightest ray of hope—the rumor of better food, a whisper about an escape—helped some of the camp inmates to continue living even under the most deplorable conditions imaginable. 
What lies ahead for our world in 2003? More suffering. I’m sure of it. But I’m not a pessimist because I believe God will continue to supply us with sprinklings of hope. They will swell within a people who continue to look for a kingdom that reflects the love and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
The cover of TIME‘s photo issue showed the Manhattan skyline at night, with Lady Liberty holding her burning torch high, backed up by two powerful beams of light shooting heavenward where the twin towers once stood. In that photo there’s more darkness than light. But it’s not the darkness that your eyes are drawn to—it’s the light.   
Such light represents our hope—a hope that one day there will be peace on earth and goodwill among all humankind. 
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column first appeared in The Moultrie Observer.