The language of hope permeates contemporary healthcare literature. People who are hopeful appear to be more resilient to physical and mental illness, and more likely to recover if they are afflicted. As well, many studies reveal that there is a positive correlation between faith and wellbeing.
It may be that if faith is an effective medicine hope is the active ingredient. Hope here is distinguished from the world’s understanding of that word, which is often confused with wishing or even optimism. The virtue of hope is firmly rooted in the wisdom of faith and the practice of religion. The Handbook of Religion and Health, published in 2001, identified more than 1,600 studies and reviews that examine the religion-health relationship. One of the authors of the handbook more recently revised that figure to “…as many as 3,000 studies…the majority reporting positive findings.”
The World Health Organization has endorsed the work of Faith-Based NGOs for their overall efficacy. The esteemed medical journal The Lancet published this summer an article which suggests that building on the extensive experience, strengths, and capacities of faith-based organisations offers a unique opportunity to improve health outcomes.
Hope makes this possible, hope that transcends all human understanding, “for it is by hope that we are saved.” Hope trusts and is confident in the adventure of life, in its unseen aspects. So, as Saint Paul continues in his letter to the Romans, “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Patience is only possible if we take the wishing out of hoping and replace it with the assurance that welfare is a journey, a pilgrimage with, in and to God.
Faith that is based on unsound theology or poor images of God is unlikely to produce positive outcomes as far as wellbeing is concerned, but faith that is wholesome yields hope that makes everything possible through peace. The mark of hope is true peace. We tend to think of peace as unidimentional, but the peace that God gives, his peace, is encapsulated in the Hebrew word shalom, which has many related connotations, including completeness, wholeness, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, fullness, rest, harmony; the absence of agitation or discord, a state of calm without anxiety or stress. These are the ingredients of good health.
The 19th century American essayist Henri David Thoreau linked both hope and health to participation in the rhythm of life: “Measure your health by your sympathy with morning and spring…the awakening of nature…the prospect of an early morning walk…the warble of the first bluebird.” This is a message of health and hope in the resurrections of daily life.
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that such hope is built on God’s faithfulness, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”