The Gospel Message of Hope Triumphs over the World’s Message of Hopelessness
Inspired by the book of Jojo Moyes, the movie “Me Before You” follows the young and chipper Louisa “Lou” Clark as she hopped from one job to the next. But her world flipped upside down when she became the caregiver of a young man, Will Traynor, who was left paralyzed after a motorcycle accident two years prior. Like many victims of a life-changing injury, Traynor was cynical, angry, and depressed. So, aside from general caregiving, Clark decided to help Traynor see life is worth living, despite pain and suffering.
They go through the year together and (spoiler) fall deeply in love. At first glance, the narrative seemed to depict that even a miserable person could experience joyous things again. Well, that’s not quite the case.
Traynor experienced happiness, fun, laughter, and love, but the final analysis revealed none of that was enough for him. Hyper fixated on the fact he would never be the active man he once was, but stuck as a quadriplegic, Traynor decided the only solution was to end his life by assisted suicide. Clark begged him not to. She said she loved him, and that his paralysis didn’t affect her. Nonetheless, the story ends with Traynor ending his life and Clark being left alone.
I think the worst part about this ending was not that it seemed to advocate for euthanasia (I don’t believe that was the intention), but that it openly proclaimed a message of hopelessness.
We see pain, suffering, depression, anxiety, fear, and anger all over, and, unfortunately, suicide is a common escape from these soul-numbing emotions. When you live in a state of darkness and turn to a dark world, death seems like a simple solution. That’s what “Me Before You” demonstrated. It didn’t matter that Traynor had someone who loved him and made him laugh, because he saw no hope in a future being paralyzed. Clark couldn’t make it worth it.
Traynor represents countless people suffering around the world daily. Not all take their lives, but many give them away to alcohol, drugs, crime, prostitution, etc. Anything to numb the pain. Anything to cover up the deep chasm of loneliness. Anything to distract from the aches of mental or physical agony. Misery seeps from the soul and pours into every aspect of life, leaving no room for hope. Nothing short of a bottle, a pill, or a lie.
Suffering holds the mind in anguish, in a tunnel that, hopelessly, seems without end. The reality is that this world is fallen, full of sin and depravity. To some degree or another, the effect of sin makes suffering inevitable. And a fallen world cannot be the cure for itself, nor the problems it births. The only thing that overcomes darkness is light. The world will always fall short because it lacks the only hope amid suffering: Christ.
Traynor’s story is an example of the world’s message of hopelessness, but Joni Eareckson Tada is an example of the gospel’s message of hope.
Tada was 17 when she misjudged the depth of the Chesapeake Bay, dove in, and forcefully landed on her head, crushing her neck. The fracture between her fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae not only paralyzed her from the shoulders down but led to over 50 years of chronic pain. She said in an interview with Alisa Childers, at “times [the pain] is so overbearing that I can hardly put two words together in a clear sentence.” But despite this, Tada is quick to proclaim: “Jesus is worth it.”
When she was first injured, she was angry, depressed, and hopeless. But surrounded by Christian friends, Tada was encouraged to fix her eyes on Christ. She would never describe her experiences as “easy,” but rejoices daily in knowing Christ — the hope in suffering the world cannot provide. “In a strange way, I welcome the dark and difficult guest of pain,” she said. “[B]ecause I know it is the gash through which more grace will pour into my life. … [N]earness and sweetness to Jesus Christ is worth the pain. And that’s a hard thing to say when I feel like screaming.”
I reflected on these two stories and noticed the stark contrast. In the first, Clark was clearly trying to be the solution to Traynor’s pain, to no avail. Nothing she did proved greater than the hopelessness Traynor felt. And by the world’s standards, what else is there to do with hopelessness but seek a way out? Without Christ, perhaps Tada would have been no different. But that is exactly the point.
Tada does have hope. She understands that Christ is the Rock on which we stand and our anchor in the storm. When the world only offers distractions or more pain, Jesus offers life. He offers peace, and joy, even through tribulation. In case people forget, Jesus is no stranger to suffering.
He was mocked and scorned; beaten and bruised; nailed to a cross with a crown of thorns. He took on the sin of all mankind and was alienated from God the Father. He suffered immensely, yet blamelessly, for our sake. Our God understands our pain and suffering. He understands what it feels like to be hated and mistreated. When He took on our sin, which severed His perfect communion with the Father, He understood deep loneliness. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” He cried out.
So, He understands whatever we could endure. But not only does He empathize, He is with us through it all. This He has promised:
“I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2).
“I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
“He will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
I look around, and I see hopelessness. It’s discouraging, truly. So long as I look at the world, hopelessness is all I’m going to get. But the moment I turn to my Bible, or redirect my focus to prayer, I see hope. My God is light that has overcome darkness, and He has promised to be by my side no matter what. The same is true for all who put their trust in Him. Christians know this life is not an endless tunnel. Quite the opposite, actually, because we know this story ends in victory, wrapped in the love of Christ in eternal paradise, where death, pain, and suffering will be gone forever.
There’s a story about a man whose paralysis crushed his hope. Nothing made the pain worth it. After two years, he decided to end his life.
Then there’s a story about a woman whose paralysis pushed her closer to Christ. After 50 years, she continues to rejoice in the hope that makes her pain worth it. She knows Who is by her side. Or, as she said, “This is the God that I love. He is so sweet. He is so very sweet.”
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.