Against All Hope

     In his business classic, Good to Great, author Jim Collins recounts the remarkable story of Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest ranking U.S. military officer to be imprisoned during the Vietnam War.  Tortured over 20 times during his eight-year imprisonment, Stockdale is quoted as saying, “I never lost faith in the end of the story.  I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

     The title of the chapter – one I’ve read many times – conveys its central theme: “Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith).”  In other words, you don’t deny your present circumstances; but you don’t accept them as final.  Stockdale continued, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

       This is an important message for us all.  Rarely are things the way we want them to be.  In many cases the truth of our situation gives cause to fanciful delusions on the one hand, or a throwing in of the towel on the other.  Ironically, it was the optimists who never made it out of the infamous Hanoi Hilton.  These were the ones who refused to face the facts and made baseless claims of impending release.  Tragically for them the day never came.

       There is another historical figure that faced a similar challenge.  Being the recipient of an extraordinary promise made to him by God, the Hebrew Abraham anticipated a son, upon whom the promise rested. Yet the years passed by and the time came when neither he nor his wife, Sarah, were physically capable of having children.  The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans recounts Abraham’s posture:

        “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver. . .” (Romans 4:18-20).
 
        The reality is that many people’s hopes and dreams are being shattered these days. Long-standing companies are going bankrupt, investments are disappearing, and jobs are being lost.  Others are severely tested in other ways.  These are the brutal facts.  Yet they needn’t be final, providing we believe that we can and will prevail in the end – even if there seems to be no basis for doing so.  Like Jim Stockdale and the biblical figure Abraham, we’ve got to have faith in the “end of the story.”
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