I have to admit in years past I’ve viewed the virtue of hope as a kind of weaker brother to faith. I’ve thought of hope as in: I hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow...or I hope my boss isn’t mad at me...or I hope I have the winning raffle ticket...or whatever. In the end, it didn’t seem very practical to me; more like “wishful-thinking” than a hard-as-nails virtue.
The apostle Paul—in juxtaposing temporal and eternal issues in life—refers to three factors in the universe that will absolutely last forever: faith, hope and love. He must have thought more highly of hope than I have. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered this: there is a unique power in the human heart that hope creates, a vital ingredient for emotional and spiritual health.
Fairly often I meet with people who have lost their sense of hope. That’s a dangerous state of mind and heart. It can happen circumstantially: a marriage fails, death visits a family, an overwhelming crisis occurs, a personal failure, a rejection or betrayal, a job loss. Something that shakes you to the core…and the struggle to go on seems not worth the effort of dealing with the problem at hand. When taking a next step in life feels more difficult than our emotional capacity, we can say that we have lost hope. Our “hope tank” is empty.
When the apostle John was an old man, he was exiled on an island for being a Jesus freak. While there he had a vision that offers a radical picture of heaven coming to earth. He writes:
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” REVELATION 21:3–5 (MESSAGE VERSION)
John transcribed this vision in a letter to churches in Asia who were undergoing terrific persecution and martyrdom. He knows it’s easy to lose hope when circumstances are unbearably difficult. And so John was infusing them with the virtue of hope. Hope whispers, “All is not finished, there’s more to come.”
For the cynics among us who believe that hope is only wishful thinking, it’s not wishful thinking if it’s true. And it depends what the object of your hope is. If you hope that one day your lost dog will come home, that’s possible if you have a lost dog. But if you hope that one day your lost dog will come home—and you don’t have a dog—chances are pretty sure the dog won’t come home. It really depends on what the preceding reality was.
For those who have surrendered their life to God, they’ve experienced His reality. That is, they’re hope is based on His reality. They’ve tasted and seen that God is good, as Psalm 34 says. They have experienced a truth to base their hope for the future on. Author and pastor Tim Keller describes hope like this (and I’m going to really paraphrase this):
Suppose two guys are hired at a factory and given a job of screwing on caps on bottles on a conveyor belt, one after the other, ten hours a day, every day, seven days a week. The boss says to the first guy, “Work at this for a year, and at the end of the year I’ll give you five-thousand dollars.”
But to the second guy, the boss says, “Work at this for a year, and at the end of that time I’ll give you five-million dollars.”
Who do you think is going to handle that job the best? Yeah, right. The guy making five-thousand dollars is going to give up after a few weeks and say, “This isn’t worth it! This place sucks! This isn’t even minimum wage! I’d rather quit than keep doing this over and over, day after day, 365 days a year.”
But what do you think the guy making five-million dollars will do? How do think he’s going to handle that emotionally? Yeah, he’s whistling while he works, he’s skipping his lunch break, he’s screwing a gazillion caps on a day and he’s smiling. He only has to do this for a year!—for five million dollars!
Interesting thought, eh?
The intellectual and former atheist C. S. Lewis—who became a Christian late in life—once described how suffering can be used by God to shape our character and correct some of the ways that we might avoid God. It can be used to discipline us. That sounded barbaric to Lewis at one time. And then he thought about it and wrote:
“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for correction and it's not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.” ~C.S. LEWIS; GOD IN THE DOCK: ESSAYS ON THEOLOGY AND ETHICS, PG.52
The reality of this world being made new in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God should cause us all to see Christmas—and the ensuing new year—in a different light. The True King has come into the world as one of us, to save as many of us as will surrender to His Kingship, in order that we might bring others along with us to work the works of the Kingdom: setting people free, healing broken people, loving the outcasts, expressing the heart of the King in tangible ways, thereby offering a picture of what is to come.
So let me ask one question: If you knew there was more coming tomorrow, how would you live today? And I don’t just mean “wishful thinking”…I mean really knew there was more than this. It was before Israel was subjugated, exiled to Babylon, and circumstances went completely south, that God said to Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” JEREMIAH 29:11
The Hebrew word used for hope in that verse is tiqvâh, normally translated as hope, but literally a rope. It’s the same word that was used in the story centuries earlier of the Hebrew spies slipping into Jericho. The prostitute Rahab risked her life to safely hide them, asking only that they spare her family’s life.
Before they left, the men told her, “We can guarantee your safety only if you leave this scarlet rope (tiqvâh) hanging from the window. JOSHUA 2:17–18 (NEW LIVING TRANSLATION)
When you think about it, hope is really just a rope anchored to the future.
On a scale of one-to-ten, how would you rate the rope factor in your life?