“Yes, the day of the LORD will be dark and hopeless, without a ray of joy or hope.” Amos 5:20 NLT
Sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it? And not like the God of love we know – but like any verse grabbed out of context, this description of the day of the Lord is misleading on its own. At this point the Lord is speaking through his prophet Amos, trying (as always) to get the people of Israel to turn back to him and be true, genuine and faithful. They might talk about wanting the Lord to come and be with them, but because of their insincerity and disloyalty this would be hopeless, because he would have to judge them, and so that circumstance is described before our verse above: “In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion—
only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house—
and he’s bitten by a snake.” Amos 5:19
These would be happenings that Alanis Morissette might have sung about in her song Ironic, where she gleefully (and perhaps ironically) confuses misfortune with irony. Here the Israelites too are in a muddle, but about who God is and what he and they want. They say they want him around, but try to placate him with false praise. The Lord is desperate to save them and give them the hope that they are running from. As well as the refrain “come back to me and live!” in this chapter, the last verse describes what God wants from his people instead of worship and sacrifices that are only for show (partnering the perhaps better known Isaiah 58) “Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living”. Amos 5: 24 NLT
I find it physically hard to type the word “hopeless.” I didn’t used to. I was sure I was hopeless and so it flowed easily, off the fingers and off the tongue. Since I started praying regularly, every time I try to type the word, it comes out as hopeful, unless I am really concentrating. I find this encouraging, because I am not naturally a hopeful person, and hope (!) that it is revealing something of the unquenchable optimism of the Holy Spirit that dwells within me.
But if that is my inner truth, it doesn’t always feel like that. Life is hard and relentlessly so, at least for my family it seems, and holding onto hope in the day to day grind is often too hard an ask. And yet, somehow it remains, like a hidden mystery, deep down, a seed in the dark that refuses to die. It doesn’t float, that’s for sure, and it is not a light, airy ethereal thing, hope. At least not to me. Hope is a heavy thing, an anchor that holds fast in the deep mud underneath everything. It is strong and it is immoveable, unlike my own sometimes feeble faith. Hope keeps me going because it underpins all things. It is the hand I can reach out for in the dark of night and the flame that burns right at the centre of a bright furnace. It can be relied upon, along with love, to hold fast and never give up.
Being hopeless looks a lot less like the weariness and despair that we feel when times are hard than we think. Instead It is clear that we are only really without hope when we go our own way and choose wickedness and falsity over the genuine relationship offered by the Lord of all Hopefulness.
Photo from Morguefile