Let me characterize the critical nature of hope through a contemporary parable. In fact, to mix things up a bit, let's make it a futuristic parable.
Imagine a huge machine, built like a three-story glass building, in the middle of a white desert. In fact, when you first stumble upon it while crossing the desert, you think it is a building. It's black and square, like an office tower. A monolith that looks as though it may have been dropped off on the last alien flyby.
You approach the monstrosity cautiously, and once confident that it's harmless, you try to enter. It's locked tight. Being quite resourceful, you blow the door with some handy TNT. After the smoke clears you enter.
Dark. Pitch-black, in fact. You pull out a large flashlight and flip it on. The beam of light reveals gears and gadgets that fill you with awe. You slowly work your way into the building and discover that every room contains new gadgets, each seeming to have its purpose. If only you could figure out what they were for or, better yet, how to turn them on.
You set up camp outside and begin a careful examination of the building, which you now recognize as a machine of some kind. At the very least a series of machines, all housed in one structure for some apparent reason. For days you fiddle with the gears and toy with the gadgets. You manage to turn a few of them on and are delighted to discover that they actually work.
Others come and begin to explore with you. No one can figure out what the machine is for and how it works, but some of the rooms have small systems that reveal their functions. One produces water and another cranks out gold. There is a huge contraption on the tenth floor that looks like an engine of some kind, but no amount of tinkering can bring it to life.
Soon a town sprouts up around the machine. Each day more discoveries are made. Conflict erupts over who should own the gold and control the water, and the growing community institutes regulations and laws to manage that conflict. Claims are filed, and over time a thriving commerce develops around the machine.
The town becomes a city in the desert. The machine is a wonder to all who enter the doors. A use is eventually made for every gadget and gear. The wonder from the sky is the talk of the world.
Still, no one can figure out how to turn on the machine. Like ants, thousands scurry in and out of the monolith all day, but the structure itself stands in darkness, slumbering. Years go by, and soon any notion of waking the slumbering giant is forgotten.
One night while the city sleeps, you make a fascinating discovery on the tenth floor: a large pearl, roughly the size of your fist, hidden on top of the silent contraption that looks like an engine. The pearl looks priceless, and you're sure this is a treasure that will make you rich beyond measure.
Then it occurs to you that you've seen something like this pearl before. A drawing of a similar pearl in one of the contraption's openings.
You eagerly climb down and pull open the hatch in question. Sure enough, there is a drawing that looks identical to the pearl in your hand. You place the pearl in what appears to be a receptacle made for it.
Nothing happens. Beside the drawing there is a switch. What if...
You flip the switch.
In an instant your world changes. Blinding light floods the room and a whirl deafens your ears. The floor begins to hum loudly and you think the whole contraption might blow up.
Terrified, you tear down the stairs as the building comes to life around you. Gears spin and gadgets roar to life, breaking any clumsy, man-made construction built to harness their power.
By the time you break through the front door, midnight has been turned to day. Light streams from the glass building and floods the surrounding desert.
You stand in awe at a safe distance now, watching with a thousand others. Without a shred of doubt, the spectacle unfolding before your eyes is something that could come only from heaven itself.
The next day you brave your way back into the glowing machine. The wonders you discover inside are indescribable.
The glory of this machine makes all the efforts of many technicians, who've spent years putting the machine to good use, seem juvenile and silly by comparison. The path of wondrous discovery that lies ahead of you is surely mind-bending. What mystery does the machine really hold? How can such a great power be contained by glass? What kind of being made such a magnificent machine?
And to think you once tried to make bread with this thing.
The machine is the heart of happiness, placed in every man and woman and child by God himself. Though it once was full of life, it has slipped into a slumber and sits in darkness.
The pearl is the hope of eternity, which fuels the machine and brings it to life. No matter how man will find pleasure within its gears an" - contrive usefulness from its gadgets, the machine of life is destined to lie in darkness unless fuelled by the pearl of great hope. But powered by that fuel, the great machine will awaken with a thunder and fill the heart with an inexhaustible awe.
Happy is the man who finds this pearl of great price.
Ted Dekker The Slumber of Christianity. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2005, p. 75-78.