It had been one of those large family Christmases—parents, kids, and grandkids filled the house with happy noise. Cousins, in-laws, and grandkids all mingled together like too many fish in an aquarium. It felt like the kind of Christmas you might see in a Norman Rockwell painting or Hallmark movie. And that’s where this story takes a bit of a Hallmark twist.
Several days after Christmas, as the relatives were on their way home, Grandpa Rob had gone to the grocery store to pick up a few things. As he returned to his car after shopping, he felt a little strange. When he reached his car, he collapsed on the pavement—Grandpa Rob suffered a massive heart attack.
Another customer walking across the parking lot discovered Rob. He had stopped breathing. The man called for an ambulance. Rob was rushed to the hospital, unconscious. He had spent 7 minutes without oxygen; a deadly amount of time. The doctors told the family that it was most likely he would not wake up from his coma. If he did, the brain damage would be so severe, he wouldn’t be able to speak, or walk, or do anything normally. But Grandpa Rob waking up wasn’t even a consideration. The family, the doctors said, needed “to prepare yourselves.” The family knew what that meant.
As the family talked and made plans to deal with the situation, there was one person who would not let go of hope. Hope of a resurrection. And not simply a far-off hope or a “resurrection on the last day.” A stubborn hope that refused to plan a funeral. A present hope that kept her going day after day. Nana Lori, Rob’s wife of nearly four decades, wasn’t giving up hope that Grandpa Rob was going to make it. She told the doctors, “He isn’t gone. He is still here. I know it.” The doctors were sympathetic to her. After all, this wasn’t the first time that they had seen this situation. But they also weren’t changing their minds—Grandpa Rob wasn’t coming back (Again, this wasn’t the first that time they had seen this situation!).
When the medical experts give you the worst news, and your family is preparing for the worst, what do you do? What is it that keeps you going? What gives people the will to live? Or the will to fight for others to live?
Hope as a Reason for Living
In 2017, Netflix premiered a show called 13 Reasons Why. It was a show about why people give up on life. It started a national discussion in the United States about death and the reasons for living. It made people ask some really important questions about life. Like, what makes people want to live? It is an important question.
In a 2017 article in Psychology Today, psychologist Ana Nogales lists her 13 reasons to live. On her list are things like, “life is an invitation to learn” and “a new day means new experiences.” But what happens if a person doesn’t enjoy learning or experiencing new things? I’ve never heard people say that learning or experiencing new things is the reason they live. Sure, people like learning or having new experiences, but are they reasons to live?
What I found most surprising about Nogales’ list was not what was on it, but what wasn’t on it. The thing I believe every person needs in order to live is not knowledge or experience. It’s not even love or acceptance (though both are very important). I think the answer is hope. Hope is what keeps people alive. Like food, water, and air, people need hope. We don’t need scientific knowledge. We don’t need information. We need hope to stay alive. As Fyodor Dostoevsky is often quoted as saying, “To live without hope is to cease to live.”
But what is hope? I once heard an old preacher describe hope as “desire mixed with expectation.” I like that. Hope is when I want something that I don’t have, but fully expect to receive. Like the young mother who just received a cancer diagnosis. She desires to be well. To live long enough to see her children grow up. And thanks to a careful treatment plan, she expects that all of her desires will come true. The journey will be difficult. But hope makes the journey worth it. That is the power of hope.
For Nana Lori, her hope kept her going. It was the hope that Grandpa Rob wasn’t actually gone—and could actually make it through—that kept Nana Lori at his bedside from early in the morning until very late at night. It was her desire mixed with expectation for him to live that made her refuse to give up or listen to the advice of the doctors. It was her hope that kept him alive.
Grandpa Rob was in a coma for 9 days. On the 10th day, he woke up. On the 11th day, they took him off of life support. He started talking. His memory was a little fuzzy. But he remembered names, dates, and who was President. They showed him pictures of all of his grandkids. He knew every single one of their names. Rob had come back. Hope kept Grandpa Rob alive.
We have a hope that scientific facts can’t explain. Martha, in John 11:21-22, understood this kind of hope. After her brother, Lazarus, died (and had been dead for four days), Martha met Jesus as he was arriving. She said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Even now? Four days after her brother was dead, she still has hope? Yes. She desires her brother to live again, and fully expects Jesus to make that a reality. We learn as much in the verses that follow:
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:23-27)
Martha’s hope was centered on Jesus. Her faith was in the one who is the resurrection and the life. As Christians, we have that same hope. We have a hope that goes beyond rationality, but is not irrational. It requires belief, and yet, to many, seems unbelievable. It goes beyond the purview of scientific investigation, and yet is historical fact. We have the hope of the resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus’s resurrection is the basis of Christian hope. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have hope that death will be finally defeated. We have hope we will be fully redeemed. We have hope that there is a new creation coming. We have hope that everything wrong with the world will be made right. Our desire to see everything made new, mixed with the expectation that it will be, is what makes life worth it. That is the power of Christian hope.
Resurrection hope is life changing. It sometimes defies medical wisdom. It comes face-to-face with death and says, “you lose.” It stares into the face of insurmountable odds and demands the impossible. In his book, Surprised by Hope, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright puts it this way, “Hope, for the Christian, is not wishful thinking or mere blind optimism. It is a mode of knowing, a mode within which new things are possible, options are not shut down, new creation can happen.” Christian hope sees beyond the brokenness of the present world and into a future of renewed creation. And that hope makes our journey worth it. That hope is our reason to live.