The Significance of Hope
Hope [Old English hopian (to hope)]. Definition: Anticipating something good to come in the future. (One does not hope for what one already has, though one can hope it continues.)
The Bible describes what hope means, and says what it is there for. God's followers hope for God's will be done on earth as in heaven. Or, said another way, the Christian hopes for the fruition of what has already begun, the full arrival of God's Kingdom. We pin our hopes on the God of that Kingdom.
The New Testament words for hope are various forms of Greek elpis. The closest Hebrew words are the verb forms of yachal. Paul wrote in several places about what hope leads to or makes: patience, courage, and joy. It makes us stable, and we are saved in hope. It is one of the three things which last : faith, hope, and love.
Christians hope in God's promises, and in the God who delivers on those promises. The promises of God to us are found all over Scripture. Hoping in the wrong thing or the wrong source is eternally fatal. (It is even a kind of idolatry.) Hope can seem like a trick, and indeed, misplaced hope can be the cruelest of tricks, like a lying lover. Hope drives our actions and goals -- if we didn't have hope that we'd succeed, why bother to strive for them, for what good would it do? If anything gets accomplished, it is through hope. When we support freedom and justice, we send out ripples of hope. Hope is very hard to kill, and even when it dies, like Christ it has a way of coming back to life.
With the lens of hope, we can see right through life's (and faith's) quandaries. Hope looks forward to the Kingdom of God, and finds for us the signs of that kingdom in the past and the present. What is now is not what was, and Christ shows us that what is now is not what will be. If it were not so, then Mary is the crassest of liars by saying "with God, all things are possible". The end to the suffering, injustice, and falseness of what was and is, is marked by the cross as if it were a dead-end sign. Hope is anchored to reality through Jesus' resurrection.
"Now, hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what is already seen?"
Hopes, False and Real
It is often said how we all need hope to survive, how it is what dreams feed on, how it is what gets us past the tough times when life is at its worst. So some people make puffy statements about hope, or create false hope or even deceptive hopes, just to keep going. Lurking behind the manufacturing of hope is the soul-chilling suspicion, and occasionally a full-scale belief, that made-up hope is the only kind there is. Or, the belief is that if we just hope hard enough, or if large enough numbers of us hope together, that it will spread its pixie-dust on our lives, and it will somehow just 'become' real. But if you think about it, you'll realize that such hoping is a shell game and a spiritual charade, a supposedly 'good lie' which, like all so-called 'good lies', ends at a cruel smash-up into the wall at the dead end of that road. Hoping in hope itself is like believing in faith; it is a circle that goes nowhere and ultimately does nothing.
"But", someone would say, "don't you make up hope too? Isn't all this talk about God just something we made up as a way to keep us going? Didn't we humans create 'God' to manufacture for ourselves a hope beyond ourselves?" (Leave aside for a moment the fact that some people use anything, including 'God', to suck people dry of their hopes -- the blame for that goes solely on those persons.) I can't prove God to you, not through logical deduction or quantum physics. I can't take you back to 2500 years ago so you could meet Jeremiah, nor 3000 years ago for David, and show you what God did (or didn't do). I can't transport you to Galilee of 2000 years ago, and have you speak to Jesus of Nazareth, nor even to Paul of Tarsus. I can't claim I know what the next chapter of human life is.
I can, however, testify to my own experiences, about how my life draws its strength from what is beyond me and very much Other than me. I can testify that life pretty well matches what the Bible says life is like. I can share with you how Jesus' kind of God is the only kind that makes sense. I can say that what I believe is not something I made up, but is rather something that has successfully sustained the hearts of billions over the course of two millenia, in spite of the evil work of those who abused in this God's name. I can even speak of a loving relationship with this God, an intimate back-and-forth exchange of an admittedly strange sort, which guides my life, or at least as far as my mulish mind lets it. God affirms us as people, even if our actions aren't at all affirmable. I didn't 'manufacture' any part of this; it is a response to the reality that I live in. This gives me cause for a very strong hope, for myself and for the species I belong to, and even the planet I live on. I believe that it is a much firmer basis for hope than what most people base their lives on. I hope, of course, that you too can discover Who I hope in.
Hope as a Gift of God
Hope is a gift of the Spirit, too. Not a 'charism' in the sense Paul was speaking of, but it is something given by God. The evidence: one of the few things one can say across-the-board about those with a vigorous view of the Spirit is that virtually all of them are full of hope. The Spirit tells them about Christ. Christ makes forgiveness happen. Our relationship with God becomes one of being God's child, not one of a rebel. And nothing the world dishes out can get rid of this gift. When we meet someone living out an honest faith, a hope is stirred up inside. We are prompted to step forward in the hope that the same will be true for us as well. Life becomes something to be savored, even to be dared (within God's purposes), even as the world around them destroys itself through its rebellion against God. The gift of hope shines light into inner depression and outer oppression, saying that all is not so bleak, God has already won, and in the end, so have all of us.
You can also hope to find the dictionary's definition. And Wikihow has a good article on finding hope from a secular perspective. Such a view doesn't help you find where to ultimately place your hope, but it can point you to places where it sometimes hides, or has been lost and abandoned by you or the world around you.
Think for a minute:
- drawing on your own experiences, what does 'hope' mean to you?
- what has stirred up hope within you?
- Have you ever had your hopes crushed? What did that to you? And what (if anything) has restored it or given you a new hope?
Also, read this review of a part of John Polkinghorne's book *The God of Hope and the End of the World*.
Quotations on Hope
"The labors of the farm do not seem strange to the farmer; the storm at sea is not unexpected by the sailor; sweat causes no wonder to the hired laborer; and so to those who have chosen to live the life of piety the afflictions of this world are not unforeseen. Nay, to each of the aforesaid is joined a labor that is appropriate and well known to those who share it -- a labor that is not chosen for its own sake, but for the enjoyment of expected blessings. For hopes, which hold and weld together man's entire life, give consolation for the hardships which fall to the lot of each of these."
Basil the Great
"Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."
"Every time you stand up for an ideal, you send forth a tiny ripple of hope."
"Things never go so well that one should have no fear, and never so ill that one should have no hope."
unknown, prob. Turkish
"To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death."
Pearl S. Buck
"Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence."
"The future wills to become present; it tends toward its arrival in a permanent present."
Wolfhart Pannenberg, *New Theology #5*, Christian Century, p. 129
"We need hope which is made wise by experience but is undaunted by disappointment."
Jürgen Moltmann, Christian Century, *The Challenge Of Religion In the '80s*, 1980-04-23, p 465-468.
"If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life."
Proverbs 13:12, NRSV
Next page: what the apostle Paul called the more excellent way.