ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
- What is hope?
Hope essentially looks to the future (Romans 8:24), both the near and the distant future. Hope is a state of mind which is positive, expecting that the future will bring something good. There are things that we hope for that are very unlikely! If one buys a lottery ticket in the hope of winning a major prize, one has to accept that the probability of winning that prize is extremely small – yet one continues to hope. And that hope modifies one’s behaviour. If there was no hope at all of winning then one would not buy the ticket, it is only the hope of winning that makes many people go out and buy.
This may be a trivial example, but when the Christian uses the word “hope” in a Christian setting there are similarities as well as differences to the world’s use of the term. The Christian is looking to the future. He/she is expecting that the future will bring something better, but he/she is certain that this will happen (Hebrews 11:1), and the certainty of the hope will surely modify behaviour.
It is this Christian hope that will be our main concern in what follows.
Christian hope looks to the future in confident expectation of something better.
- Hope versus hopelessness.
There are few sadder words in the English language that “hopelessness”. It is a negative word, a word of despair. It suggests a state where there is no chink of light, only the enveloping darkness. There is nothing to look forward to, perhaps only the deadening grind of an existence, of a struggle to stay alive through illness or poverty. Surely hopelessness will alter behaviour because it will stifle any attempt to improve one’s lot and so to escape from the black rhythm that envelops.
No Christian can be truly hopeless. Yes, there may come periods in life when even the Christian feels deserted both by other Christian people and even by God Himself and so the outlook seems black. Yet hope remains. As Jesus died on the cross under the weight of our sins, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me” (Mark 15:34). There never was a blacker moment than this in the whole history of the universe. Yet it was not hopeless. A little later Jesus could cry again “It is finished” (John 19:30) in the sense that all was completed (verse 28), that the victory over sin had been won and His job on earth was done. That was a moment of hope, not hopelessness, as confirmed by His mighty resurrection.
Christian hope should never give way to hopelessness, even in the darkest moments of life.
- The source of a Christian’s hope.
While hope is a looking to the future, the reason we can hope has its foundation in the past. We can hope because we believe in a God who wants the best for us, just as He has done for countless folk all down the ages. God is a God of hope (Romans 15:13). God made promises to Abraham that he would be the founder of a great nation (Genesis 12:2) and although Abraham and his wife Sarah were old, they were given a son, so God fulfilled the hope He had given to Abraham (Romans 4:18).
There is a wall-hanging in St. Andrews that refers to the “promises of God”. It is because God has promised to be with us that we can hope. True hope is a divine gift – yes, people who, sadly, do not know God can hope and God, in His mercy, may reach out to them, but His promises are to those who love and serve Him.
Christian hope is a gift from a loving God.
- Hope – even in suffering.
Because of sin we live in a fallen world where suffering affects us all at one time or another. It may come as a result of persecution or mockery of our faith, it may come as a result of illness or disability, it may come as a result of accident or the foolishness of others, it may come through bereavement, it may come through our own stupidity. Whatever the reason we all experience suffering in one way or another (John 16:33) and indeed some seem to have more than their fair share!
Even Jesus knew what it was to suffer. He knew the effects of hunger (Matthew 4:2), of thirst (John 4:6,7), of rejection (Matthew 8:34), of tiredness (Luke 8:23) and of the sorrow of a friend’s death (John 11:35). If Jesus, who was without sin (Hebrews 4:15), suffered, we can hardly expect that we, who are guilty of sin, will not suffer. However, this is not to say that any particular suffering that we experience is necessarily the direct result of a particular sin or that those who suffer most are the greatest sinners. That simply is not the case. However we are sinners, we live in a sin-riddled world and therefore there is suffering.
Yet in all the suffering, the Christian has hope (1 Peter 1:3-9). The Christian knows that nothing, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39). Christians know that they walk with God now and that as they lift their eyes to the future, hope burns ever brighter.
Christian hope is not dimmed by suffering in this life.
- The Christian hope of salvation.
Paul makes the observation, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and he is not just thinking of the natural death that will come to each of us at the end of this earthly life, but of eternal separation from God. We are all sinners and we all need to be saved from sin and its consequences. Yet we cannot save ourselves, we have to be saved. This is what Jesus has done (John 3:16). He died on the cross in our place. He carried the punishment which we should have received for the many sins that we have committed. He has saved us and He goes on saving us for we keep on slipping back into evil ways. So our salvation is based on what He has done as He died on the cross at Calvary, our salvation is based on what He is doing in that He sent the Holy Spirit to help us day by day, and our salvation will be complete when He welcomes us into His kingdom to be with Him for all eternity.
So while salvation rests on what has been done and is being worked out in our lives now, it is also our future hope.
Christian hope of salvation is the outworking of the love of God and of the cross of Christ.
- The Christian hope of eternal life.
The bread and wine at Holy Communion are often given to each person with the words, “The Body/Blood of Christ keep you in eternal life.”So like salvation eternal life is both a past fact, a present reality and a future hope. Eternal life is simply God’s sort of life, free from all the ills of this life on earth. We can but get a taste of this life on this earth, and a wonderful taste it is, the full banquet is yet to come (Matthew 26:29)!
To believe in Jesus Christ, His words and His work is to enter into eternal life. To believe is also the key which opens the door of our hearts (Revelation 3:20) and lets Jesus in to dwell in us in the form of His Holy Spirit for evermore.
Christian hope of eternal life is guaranteed by the work of the Holy Spirit in each and every Christian.
- The Christian hope of resurrection and a new body.
Resurrection is a fundamental fact of Christian faith. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14) and, a little later, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Christ was raised and so shall we be. If there is no resurrection to a new life after this one has ended, then there is no point in Christianity because it would be based on a false promise (John 14:1-3).
Yet in this hope there is mystery (1 John 3:2)! These present bodies of ours are subject to wear and tear, some more than others! They are not suitable for the life to come and so we can confidently hope that “we will be changed…..For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:52,53). We are not told the detail, probably because we, with our material minds, would not appreciate the nature of the spiritual body. But we do know that “we shall be like Him (the Lord Jesus)” (1 John 3:2).
Christian hope is for a glorious life after this one has ended, in a body “Fit for purpose.”
- The Christian hope of being part of God’s family.
The Christian life is not normally a solitary one, we live in fellowship with others who share the same beliefs as we do. Indeed the church – the people more than the building – is the symbol of this. In fact another way of describing Christians is as the brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:11). We have become part of God’s family. This family relationship is also something that will continue into the next life, albeit with the rough corners removed (for in this life, even in the happiest of families, there are, from time to time, difficulties or differences of opinion).
Christian hope is for a perfect family life with God.
- The “now and not yet” of hope.
As we have already seen Christian hope for the future builds on what has happened in the past and what is happening now. We experience this in everyday life too. To take an example: we want to go on holiday. We may well ask family and friends for suggestions based on where they have been, then we read about places or watch holiday programmes on TV, we choose and book and then we wait in hope that it will work out as we have planned. We have a foretaste now and a hope for a future reality. Christian hope is the same except that we should know that nothing (for a holiday could be spoilt by bad weather or an unfortunate accident), absolutely nothing can spoil our future life in the presence and family of God (Romans 8:38,39).
What we experience “now” may not be all that we would like – indeed God may have to discipline us now in order to prepare us for the future – and the delay as we wait for the realisation of our hope may be long and hard, but the glory to come will make the preparation and the waiting vanish into insignificance (Philippians 3:13,14).
Christian hope should inspire us to persevere in our day-to-day life certain of wonders to come.
- Faith, hope and love.
Paul links these three virtues on several occasions (1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5,6; Colossians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1;3; 5:8). If we had no faith we could hardly hope because our Christian hope is based on our trust that what Jesus Christ promised is true and this is the bedrock of our faith as well. Then once we have faith and hope we must have love towards those who share our faith and hope because we are all moving along the same path towards the one God who is in very nature love (1 John 4:8).
Christian hope is based on faith and results in love.
- Hope and confidence.
John speaks of our being confident and unashamed when Jesus returns (1 John 2:28). This is an outworking of our hope. Our hope in Christ is based on what He has done and is doing in us. Because of this hope we try as hard as we can to “purify” ourselves (1 John 3:3), but the foundation of our hope is not in ourselves but in Jesus. It is Jesus who gives us confidence that what we are truly hoping for will come to pass in His good time. Our hope and our confidence is that we shall, one day, share Jesus’ home, cleansed of every trace of sin, changed into what we were meant to be, and happy and at peace in the presence of our God.
Christian hope should help us to be “lost in wonder, love and praise.”
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.