Prisoners of Hope
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
"Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you." Zechariah 9:12
This passage is one of the most beautiful in all of the Bible. The appearance of the word ‘hope’ by itself gives it beauty. Hope is the confident expectancy that God will bring about outcomes both different and greater than we can imagine. However, I find the word ‘prisoner’ to be powerful as well. Zechariah writes to people who are in exile under Persian rule and some who have returned to Jerusalem to find it in ruins. The exiles are free but dejected to be far from home. The Jerusalem returnees are home but disappointed. We, too, often find ourselves dejected or disappointed at the state things. Our personal lives are not exactly Instagram material and we find ourselves imprisoned by the pandemic. Life is like that- and not just in 2020. No wonder Kierkegaard said, “The whole of our lives is a time of hope.” Things are rarely exactly as we wish them to be. At least Zechariah understands that.
And yet there is another meaning to ‘prisoners.’ Hope is a place in which we can choose to lock ourselves in the midst of difficulties. We become prisoners of hope. We choose to dwell there because of our faith in the goodness of God and because to not live in hope is to live in despair. Without hope, we get blown around by our circumstances. No wonder Zechariah calls this prison a ‘fortress;’ it keeps us strong.
But what can keep us from withering away while living in this prison of hope? Surprisingly, Paul says that it is endurance or patience (Romans 5:3). The most famous theological book on hope was written by Jurgen Moltman in 1964. Decades later, he made a startling admission: “In my young life I learned to love the God of hope and new beginnings; of new life and new ideas. In old age I am learning to know the God of patience.” Hope is so often delayed that patience is vital.
In my life, the greatest enemy to patience and therefore, hope, is my tendency to prematurely judge the events of my life. It is like picking a flower before it blooms or picking fruit off the tree before it ripens. Too often I realize that I misjudged the event and brought myself needless additional suffering. Patience gives me a better perspective. I think of Mary at Christmas. What hope must have stirred in her heart at the shepherds words! And then how that hope must have seemed crushed on Good Friday. My guess is that Mary locked herself in the prison of hope. Three days later that prison door opened and she walked out to find hope had become reality! We may have to wait more than three days, but I know that one day our prison door will open as well. Until then I choose to wait... in hope.