What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
~ Langston Hughes, “A Dream Deferred”
Many answers to Langston Hughes’s questions came during the Civil Rights movement. When a dream was deferred there were protest marches on one hand, and the Blank Panther Party on the other. For some it meant sit-ins at lunch counters; for others it meant starting riots in Watts. The delayed dream of equally accessible educational, social, occupational, and economic opportunities shriveled up for many in the post Jim-Crow generation of African Americans. However, for some it exploded.
No one likes coming to the edge of a new day only to have someone put up a sign that says, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” When struggles have been insurmountable and a ray of sunshine finally breaks through, if something steals that sunshine, you can expect the downtrodden to do every desperate, hope-recovering thing – from occupying Wall St. to turning on one’s own fellow soldiers in war.
There is another course the believer can take when earthly expectations go up and down – when your hope shipwrecks. It is a course that goes right through Calvary.
Paul is headed toward Rome. He has death threats behind him in Jerusalem, a trial before Caesar ahead of him, and raging seas between the two cities. After fourteen days out at sea, being blown 470 miles off course, and not seeing the sun or stars for a very long time, many of the passengers on Paul’s ship have lost hope of seeing land again. The travelers probably would have written last notes to their families if there had been any chance the letters would have been found. Something changes, however, in the last episode of their journey: Land is sighted!
So the passengers do what people with a new last hope do—they throw everything into this hope: They cut their anchors and they hoist the mainsail to catch the wind. If another storm wind or current comes, they have no way of slowing or steering the ship. No matter! For,when hope is sighted, we will make eager plans even without full information (Acts 27:39-40). This is the nature of unredeemed hope: we act immediately on it because there seem to be no other answers.
When one feels hopeless, it is easy to put hope in something new and shiny without any research, prayer, or seeking of wisdom. The default button asks, “Well, what else do you want me to do? Do you want me to keep suffering?”
Acting quickly on the first sign of new hope without getting all information often lies blind unnecessary cosmetic surgery, lost of virginity, committing adultery with an co-worker, or taking stupid peer-pressure dares. “This is my last opportunity for love, or for acceptance,” someone says. Yet it simply is the first sign of a new hope that one can see.
All goes well at sea until the travelers strike a reef—literally “the place of two seas,” or a place where a sandbar built up between two currents (41). The bow of the ship is stuck in such a manner that it cannot be lodged free. The currents behind the ship are so strong that the rear of the storm-battered ship actually is being broken up (41). There is potential for the prisoners to use the ship’s demise as an opportunity to escape.
The soldiers decide that it would be better to say the prisoners were killed than that they escaped. So they intend to kill all of them, because when hope is shipwrecked, we make panic plans to save our hides (27:41-42).