Abstract: What really is hope, and why do we have such a poor grasp on it? The Bible provides clarity and confidence that hope is reasonable and effective in our lives in spite of the world around us.
What are our cultural markers of hope? How do we as a society understand hope and make it part of our lives?
Christmas has trees and gift giving and carols, and concerts and family gatherings. Christmas is the holiday of “Joy to the World” and “Peace on earth.” Regardless of personal belief, Christmas offers a sense of personal uplift, if not specific joy, and pierces the bleakness of winter in the northern hemisphere.
Thanksgiving? Well, that cultural marker is built into the name. Perhaps that is the cultural recognition most directly associated with the value it celebrates. People actually give thanks on Thanksgiving!
Martin Luther King Day, Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day. These all mark commonly held values or recognize individuals who promoted values that we hold corporately.
Hope and Hopefulness
But what are the cultural markers we use for hope? Where does that appear in our rainbow of shared values?
Easter probably comes the closest. Easter is a celebration of resurrection. It is a marker of triumph, of a promise fulfilled, of a battle won and an impossible task completed. It is a display of love, mercy and justice: an offer of relationship-wonderfully deep, personal and enduring. But hope is still not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Easter.
We would all endorse some form of hopefulness if asked directly, yet I don’t think hope would make the top five or even ten personal or cultural values if we were asked to enumerate them.
How we use the word Hope
Why do we have such a vague or conflicted notion of hope?
Perhaps it’s the way we use the word. “Hope” is often invoked to describe a personal desire over which we have little control, as in “I hope it doesn’t rain today.” Most of the well-known dictionaries align the concept of “hope” with some sense of a desired but ineffectual personal preference. This leaves us with the sense that hope is weak, detached from reality, and nothing more than a wish.
Hope and Faith
This is not the way the Bible uses the word.
Throughout the Bible, “hope” is closely linked to “faith” and the two are often used interchangeably. Both are forward looking, but distinct from our common use because they are anchored on a certainty backed by the promise of a sovereign God and the historical and continued outworking of that promise.
Hope is the eager expectation that springs from the quiet confidence of faith.
Paul explains this in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians (NIV) “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people…”
An example of the Biblical use of hope and faith goes something like this.
A five-year-old is told by her parents that the next day the family will go to Disney World. Faith is the quiet and perhaps unconscious confidence that the parents are telling the truth because they always have told the truth before. Hope is the energetic exuberance that has this child bouncing off the walls with excitement (author unknown).
If you are reading this, you are probably beyond the age of getting excited by a visit to Disney World. But how about knowing the hope that comes from “the riches of his glorious inheritance?” This can be more exciting than Disney World is to a child, and more lasting than a day’s visit. This references both the eventual completion of God’s redemptive work in a new creation with no sorrow or pain, but also God’s present work in the earthly lives of each believer as he prepares for and begins to bring this new creation to pass.
What does this mean in your life? Where are you looking for the unimaginable depth and breadth of God’s power and renewal?
May I pray for you?
Father, you are the author of all things, and the renewer of all things. We have faith in your promise, your presence and your power. We look forward with hope to the riches of your glorious inheritance, but we can’t see tomorrow from here. Forgive our weakness and strengthen our hearts and mind. Open the eyes of our hearts to see your hand in our world and our lives. Thank you for your love and power active in us even now. In Jesus’ name. Amen
For more on what exactly hope is, visit this podcast: HOPE: What Is It, How Do We Get it, and How Do We Display it – Episode 60