Doubt vs. hope: the power of words

I’ve often heard people talk about the power of hope. I’ve rarely heard people talk about the power of doubt. Yet, I suspect they are equal forces, both capable of far-reaching consequences in our life.

If that’s true, then the first choice we make, time and time again, probably has far more to do with the outcome than any of the other choices that follow.

Perhaps it’s easier to think about doubt and hope more simply. Imagine you come to Interstate 5. Turn one way and without a care in the world you can drive all the way to Canada.  Turn the other way and it’s margaritas and sun soon enough.

But if someone gives you directions that start with “Go south on I-5” and instead you go north on I-5, well, you’re screwed. Every single direction from there on out is wrong, no matter how right it may seem at the time. The only way to course correct is to turn around, go all the way back and start over.

It’s the same with doubt and hope. Through each day in decisions large and small, we are given directions that start with go north or go south. Head to hope or wallow in doubt. From then on, the rest of the thing is sort of decided. If you go the way of doubt, the result will inevitably far different than the way of hope.

I suspect if given as a question on quiz–something like this: Which would you prefer, doubt or hope?– most of us would write down hope. But life isn’t much interested in our written answers. It’s what the choice we make with our actions that counts. I’m no scientist, but I suspect far more choose doubt. The result show. A lot of people lost wandering around the desolated parts of “I-5,” nowhere near their intended destination.

One of my favorite quotes is from a psychologist named Rollo May. He said, “Man is the strangest of all animals. He is the only one who runs faster after he has lost his way.”

We don’t only choose doubt, we floor it and race to it with abandon.

I started this by saying I don’t hear people much talk about the power of doubt. I do hear them talking about its crippling nature, however, which suggests a fierce, debilitating type of power whether we acknowledge it or not.

This is a more common theme. Doubt is not just powerful, it’s ruinous. Perhaps you’ve seen the glorious musical Les Miserables? When the ramrod legalists Javert is confronted with grace and love, he is not only void of hope, he becomes crippled with doubt. He sings out to the unyielding strength of the stars to course correct. In the end, the newfound doubt is too crippling. He leaps off a bridge to his demise.

This begs the question: If doubt is so devastating, why do we do it so much? Why do we, in fact, choose it over hope. We take that first wrong turn down I-5 knowing where it will lead.

Now that’s the strangest of all animals.

Choose hope. It takes a conscious choice. It takes action and then determination to stay the course even when the rest seems odd and unknown. Hopefulness requires a bit of tenacity and endurance, but life is like  a riptide, pulling us ever back toward doubt.

But here’s the real sneaky part of this whole thing, the detour on the otherwise clear highway. When we choose hope, where do we place it? Nothing cripples so much as hope misplaced, turning to doubt, challenging all we once believed in. Return again to the case of Javert. It wasn’t a loss of hope that killed him, but a lack of grace. He couldn’t accept it.

Grace may just be the thing that fuels our hope in a way that is headed truly in the right direction.

When such doubt creeps in, I’m reminded of a movie of that name, called simply Doubt, that starred the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Merryl Streep. Streep, of course, is an actor without peer, as something like 18 Oscar nominations can attest. But the very last scene of Doubt, where her Javert-like personality cripples before our eyes under the weight of doubt.

Crying she says, “I have doubts. I have such doubts.”

Her hope was built on the wrong convictions, the wrong person and the wrong way she had chosen many, many years before. She too was impoverished of grace. When doubt arrived, it met no resistance.

We are called not just to hope, but to place our hope on that which is resolute and deserving of that faith.

Where does your hope come from? That may be the most important question of all.


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