Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is an intense course of study usually conducted within the confines of hospital settings. It is particularly offered to ministers as a part of their ministerial training. I took this course when I was working on a Masters of Divinity Degree at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.
The good fortune I had with CPE was that it was available for a time close to home at the St. Josephs Hospital in Parkersburg, W.Va. Part of the ten-week training for those of us in the class involved daily assignments to conduct patient visits and interviews.
One assignment given to me has been unforgettable over the years since it occurred. As I stepped into the room, the elderly gentleman assumed I was a doctor, and nervously proceeded to pull open his gown to reveal to me the astounding physical problem with which he was having. I quickly explained that I was not a doctor. I identified who I was, and explained I had simply come to visit with him and to talk with him for a while.
Knowing that I was not a doctor turned him somewhat reticent compared to his initial eagerness to discuss his health concern. Yet, after a few questions and some general conversation, he began to open up to what was emotionally on the inside of his chest about what was literally on his chest. He had a large tumor that created a massive, protruding bump. He seemed to manifest a realization that, at that point in with his life on the line, someone was willing to listen to him vent complaints about how life had dealt with him. So, I listened.
While I do not recall specific details, I do remember two particular statements he made. The first was a concluding one in that initial visit. He said, “I have never felt any hope in my heart.”
Many people can identify with that grizzled gentleman. They feel no hope in their heart. There is no more disappointing circumstance in life than to not feel hope in the human heart. It is pointed out that those who are convinced that they have no hope despise the fact that they were ever born. How tragic that is.
However, there is a countermanding truth for those who say they feel no hope. It is found in the truth that God gives sure hope. According to Scripture, God gives three major graces to sustain the passions of people for living life despite the hardships that often occur. One is love. The second is faith. The third is hope. It is God who has established hope. He has given hope. He is the author of hope. God has seen fit that we can live life with hope. We do not have to live life with no hope.
The term “hope” is described as “favorable and confident expectation.” As long as God sits on the throne dealing with human affairs, there is always available to us “favorable and confident expectation.” As long as Jesus Christ lives to make a difference in the human heart, there is always available “favorable and confident expectation.” As long as God’s Word remains in force to make minister to quality of life, there is always available “favorable and confident expectation.”
So, what “favorable and confident expectation?” Consider that hope is qualified by knowing that, although not all things are good, in all things God works together for good. Hope is qualified by the fact that God has given great and precious resources with which to deal with the unfortunate hardships of life. Hope is qualified in the truth that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose from the dead not only to make an eternal difference for us, but also a temporal difference. Any person in intimate relationship and fellowship with God definitely can feel the hope He gives for “favorable in confident expectation.”
I visited three more times with the gentleman. Each time he wanted to talk about the hope God gives. After I had a prayer with him that last visit, he said, “You know—-for once, I can feel the hope.”
He died sometime during that night.
Pastor Ron Branch lives in Mason County and is pastor of Hope Baptist Church, Middleport, Ohio.