Hope is a complex word. And yet it is so vital to human existence. As someone once said:
“Human beings can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”
We've previously looked at hope from a psychological and psychiatric perspective. But hope is so central to human existence that any understanding is incomplete without reference to our spiritual identity. Why? Because where else can we ultimately find hope in our darkest days?
In the world of Biblical theology, hope also refers to a confident expectation about the future. Here is how the 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon articulated hope:
"Don't you know that day dawns after night, showers displace drought, and spring and summer follow winter? Then have hope! Hope forever, for God will not fail you!"
As the day follows night and as the seasons change, this is a reminder that whatever our current situation, good or bad, challenging or refreshing, it is only for a period of time. The difficulty comes when we feel we are at the bottom of the mountain looking up. Are we going to be there forever? Maybe we are in situations with no clear outcome or we feel fatigued and at the end of our resources. It feels hopeless and we feel exhausted, there is nothing else to give. For such times, George Matheson says:
"Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope. I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope."
So often in my life I have found myself waking up with a dark cloud (I still do sometimes) - a sense of no hope about life and my situation. Maybe you have too. Its not as if there is something necessarily disastrously wrong. It's just a sense of "faithless fearful dread" as Baroness Caroline Cox puts it. I have to remind myself that I need to learn to wait for hope to come. That is what builds grit and resilience. It comes through silence and solitude and eventually leads to spiritual maturity.
Biblical hope is way beyond wishful thinking that everything will just turn out fine or the way I want life to be. It is also more than believing a better future is possible and having the power to make it happen. Vaclav Havel writes:
"Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."
Did you catch that? Hope is most powerful when it is unattached to the outcome I want. Yes there can be times of desperation and even despair, but it does not end there. There is an inner conviction that the best is yet to come.
And that is fundamentally and most powerfully shown in the cross of Christ. On the one hand the cross looked like a terrible disaster - the tragic loss of an innocent life and the apparent triumph of evil, arrogance and pride over love and goodness. One of Jesus' disciples Peter had denied ever knowing Him not once but three times. Everything appeared to be totally hopeless. Indeed that hopelessness is what led another disciple Judas to lose all hope and commit suicide when he realised what he had done in betraying an innocent man. For Peter he was restored by the resurrected Jesus who asked him three times "Do you love me?"
What we can than say is that at its core Biblical hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, Peter writes his first letter to the early disciples in and around what is now modern day Turkey. He is writing about AD60 to disciples who are going to undergo severe persecution for their faith under the Emperor Nero. Thirty years after his denial of Jesus, the same Peter writes:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead , and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time."
Can you see this reference to a 'living hope' that is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? On top of that there is hope in an inheritance that can never be lost - it can 'never perish, spoil or fade'. When Paul wrote those verses, the most powerful person in the world was Nero. The disciple Peter himself was in a few short years going to die for his faith. And yet 2,000 years later people name their dogs Nero and their children Peter! Peter had great certainty and confidence about the future because of where he had placed his hope.
It is striking how in modern English we have turned a word like hope to have almost an exactly opposite meaning to its original use. Hope in its true sense is not some wishful thinking about the future, but a confident vibrant expectation that the best is yet to come along with the power to live in the light of that. Here are some direct words from the book Jesus Today. While not strictly from Biblical scripture its direct and forceful language is immensely encouraging. Maybe its what you need to hear today:
"I am your risen, living Saviour! Through My resurrection you have been born again to an ever-living hope. It is vital for you to remain hopeful, no matter what is going on in your life....When storms break upon your life, you can only find one adequate source of help - Me!"
The power to handle life's toughest challenges comes from relationship and friendship. We've all experienced that at one time or another. We feel despondent and dejected. But then we find a safe person to open up and bring our feelings to and it is wonderfully restorative. We find maybe a glimmer of hope to persevere on. Well the outrageous audacious promise Jesus Christ makes is that knowing and experiencing Him today is the source of ultimate unending hope!
How does this Biblical understanding of hope resonate with you? What questions does it raise in your mind?Who could you share this post with today? Is there someone you know who struggles with "faithless fearful dread" and is in great need of hope? Could this post help them?
For more on this subject also see: