You can learn a lot about hope from watching the movies. When I was a kid I saw The Neverending Story, and for some reason one scene has endured in my memory. It’s the scene where Atreyu is confronted by Gmork, the wolf-like servant of the Nothing. Atreyu asks Gmork why he is helping the Nothing destroy the world and stirring up despair. Gmork the wolf replies:
Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!
Hope is a powerful weapon. Hope gives you strength and courage to endure. Hope keeps you free, and this is why religion hates hope.
I hope you understand that when I talk about religion, I don’t mean the church down the road and the nice vicar who serves there. I’m talking about an institution that sells itself as a kind of insurance business but is in fact a slaver. That’s what the word religion literally means – “to bind” – and that’s what religion actually does. It binds people.
Jesus wants you free, but religion wants you bound with guilt and fear. Why? Because those who have no hope are easier to control. It’s all in the movie.
Do not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel. (Col 1:23, GNB)
To stay in business, religion must shake your hope, and it does this seven ways:
1. Religion damages hope by diminishing God’s love
Love is the tree on which hope grows. Religion damages hope by portraying God as:
- angry: “God is mad at you. God hates you.”
- punitive: “God will judge you, scourge you, punish you.”
- temperamental: “When you sin God withdraws from you.”
- disapproving: “Tut, tut, God is not pleased when he looks at you.”
- critical: “God will put you through one test after another to see if you’re any good.”
The hopeless picture you get is that while God may believe in your potential, he doesn’t believe in you. Which is not true, because God does believe in you.
2. Religion damages hope by undermining truth
Since hope must be hitched to truth, religion damages hope is by putting question marks where God has exclamation marks. “Are you saved and secure? Are you completely forgiven and unconditionally loved? What if you sin? What if you fall away?”
Like an insurance company religion trades on uncertainty and fear. “Do you know if God will accept you? Are you sure?” The greater your fear, the better the business. These questions distract you from Christ who is the Truth. They cause you to unhitch your hope rope from him and attach it to your own religious performance. Instead of resting in Christ you’ll end up laboring in hopeless unbelief.
3. Religion damages hope by selling lies
Another way religion destroys hope is by getting you to hitch your hope-rope to outright lies: “You’re not saved, forgiven, and secure, unless you confess, pray and read your Bible every day.” “It’s not about his faithfulness but yours.” “It’s not what he’s done but what you do.”
Buy into these lies and you’ll become a prime consumer of religious products. “Bless me, Lord, for I fast twice a week and tithe all I earn.” But when God fails to bless you on account of your religious labors, the result is hopelessness and discouragement.
4. Religion damages hope by being strict
God has given you unique abilities and giftings, but you will never pursue your dreams in a culture that punishes failure. Condemnation is a hope-killer. By punishing those who make bad choices, religion discourages you from making any choices.
Religion kills hope by defining success narrowly. “Be a minister. Be a missionary.” If you don’t fit the mold, you won’t be released into your gifting. Instead of being encouraged to become the rock-star slam-poet you’ve always wanted to be, you’ll be discouraged, or worse, shown the door.
5. Religion damages hope by pretending
The typical religious leader is a walking, talking success story with perfect teeth and perfect hair. Contrast this with the apostle Paul who was open about his weaknesses and occasionally struggled with “great fear and trembling” (1 Cor 2:3).
Leaders who hide their failures deny opportunities for others to see them trusting God when they are afraid, out of ideas, and out of money. A religious hero who never has a bad day is a myth who will discourage you. But a broken man who relies on God and changes the world will inspire you.
6. Religion damages hope by painting bleak pictures of future
The New Testament writers were unquestionably hopeful. They wrote of the gospel bearing fruit all over the world and they had a confident expectation of success. Yet religion paints fearful pictures of the future shaped by terrorists, blood moons, and raptures where you’ll probably be left behind. Read the Bible and you’ll be filled with hope, but listen to religious doomsayers and you’ll be filled with fear.
7. Religion damages hope by defining the church as something other than a family
In this world we are alone, but “God sets the solitary in families” (Psa 68:6). You need the love of a family and God provides this by adopting you into his. The church is his family and Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Heb 2:11). When religion portrays the church as an army, a business, a club, or anything that is not a family, it deprives you of the secure and unconditional love that leads to a strong hope.
What happens when hope is damaged?
Love leads to hope which leads to faith. When hope is damaged – when the false god of religion fails to deliver on the false promises that religion makes – you will wander from the faith.You will wander because you’ve hitched your hope rope to an untrustworthy god who says he loves you but he’s also angry with you. He thinks you’re great, yet he scourges you with whips. It’s confusing, it’s muddled, and it’s wrong.
How do you find your way back? How do you cultivate a strong and resilient hope? I will answer these questions in the next post.