The Secret to MLK Jr.’s Hope

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It was a hope that captivated a nation. Still does. In classrooms all over America, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, speech, “I Have a Dream,” still helps weave the dreams of many young minds. We all know (or should know) them by heart:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. …

But Martin Luther King, Jr., experienced a dense social injustice that seemed insurmountable to many. Did you know that, according to the King Center, he was unjustly arrested 30 times? In Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956, he was arrested for driving 30 mph in a 25-mph zone.

Living under these circumstances, many had understandably become bitter. How did Martin Luther King, Jr., remain so hopeful? How did he keep his dream alive, as he was ridiculed, harassed, and systematically targeted because of the color of his skin?

The answer is in his name.  He was born Michael King, not Martin Luther, as he is known by all of us. His father, Michael King, Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, changed his name, and that of his eldest son, to Martin Luther after he was inspired by the great protestant reformer on a trip to Germany.

So, the answer to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, hope comes from his deep faith —a faith he most definitely received from his father, but which he embraced and acknowledged as the sustaining power of his entire effort.  Ironically, this is the part that is specifically and systematically ignored by our public schools and popular culture.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, Christian faith contains the whole of his hope and effectiveness. To those who have experienced that faith, the fruits that flowed from such sufferings are of no surprise. The Apostle Paul wrote about it centuries before: “[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” (Romans 5: 3-4).

My wish on this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2018 (marking the 50ht anniversary of his assassination) is that we may re-discover the truths Dr. King knew so well. For, though we face our own sufferings, our own challenges, our own hope is still the same.  As the old Baptist hymn writer put it, “Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

The miracle of the Christian faith is that our sufferings, through Christ, are nothing but gain. As His suffering and death on the cross brought us salvation, so, too, we can remain hopeful in the middle of whatever difficulty we face. That was the source of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, hope.

“All other ground is sinking sand.”