Recently we had a caller on the New Life Live radio and TV program who asked us if she should give up hope that her husband would change. Her husband had left her two years ago and during that time had been living with another woman. He had not talked to her during those two years, had not supported her, and had totally abandoned their 12 year-old son. He hadn’t seen his son since he left.
Over the years, I have talked with both men and women, but mostly women, who said to me that they are “standing for their marriage.” What they mean by that, is that they haven’t given up the hope that in some way, their marriage will be restored. It is a matter of faith for them. But I also remember that the husbands of some of these wives had already moved on and married someone else.
The person “standing for the marriage” usually bases their position on verses such as Hebrews 11:1, which says “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. It gives us assurance about things we cannot see,” or, 1 Corinthians 13:7, which says, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” Or they base their hope on Paul’s encouraging words in Romans 12:12, which urges us to, “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”
We didn’t quote any of these verses for the lady caller–she probably already knew them. Instead, we asked her to tell us what evidence her hope was built on–what was happening that gave her hope. Obviously, there was nothing she could point to on which she could base her hope for reconciliation.
We suggested that her hope could be defined as “defensive hope.” The evidence seemed to suggest her hope was hopeless, as it seemed she was holding on to her hope as a way to avoid the pain of her reality. As long as she had hope, she didn’t have to grieve the lose of her husband, of her son’s father, and her hopes for her marriage–she held on, instead, to a hope that protected her from feeling those painful realities.
So you ask, what about the book of Hebrews’ definition of faith? It holds on to what can’t be seen. But let’s put it into perspective. Faith, or what we might call “God’s Hope,” as opposed to defensive hope, is based on three things.
1. It is based on the promises in God’s word. These promises are specific in many cases, such as the promise to Abraham that he would have an heir. That promise was part of God’s plan for Abraham, for the Jewish people, and really for all nations.
2. It is based on a history of God’s activity in our world. Does he always cause marriages to be restored? Unfortunately not. Some are restored, but others are not restored.
3. It is based on the reality of the situation. Yes, God can do the impossible. But that doesn’t mean he will invade the other person and force them to change.
What we ended up suggesting to this lady caller was that she could hold on to hope as long as she also moved forward with her own life. We are called to grow as believers in spite of the circumstances. Here’s the promise of “God’s Hope:” “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
Question: How do you differentiate between Defensive Hope and God-based Hope?