This has been a tough week for me, so I was thinking last night about hope and feeling a little sorry for myself in the process. As I started spiraling a bit into sadness, I was brought up short when I realized that I was not focusing on my true hope…and I am pretty sure that I’m not alone. Hope is one of the many words we misunderstand in our jaded culture, and to our own detriment. Because we misrepresent it to ourselves, it is easy to think we are bereft of hope, and this is a horrific place to find ourselves in. Truly, anyone who is in Christ cannot be without hope. Yet we do not apply this promise to our lives, because we think hope is something different than it actually is.
Sometimes we think of hope as a wish or a preference. “I hope the Arizona Cardinals win 14 games this season.” This type of hope is almost trivial. Nothing bad will happen if the Arizona Cardinals don’t win 14 games this season. Sure, we may be temporarily bummed, but nothing is lost.
Other times we attach hope to something that sounds more like lust. Christmas gifts are the best example of this. “I hope I get the new iPhone as a gift this year.” Really what we mean here is, “I really want an iPhone.”
Yet another parody of hope is a desperate but unfocused longing for a better future. This is when we need something to happen to maintain some emotional stability, or to avoid pain, or to enhance our security. “I hope my mom beats cancer.” This is no small thing. If this hope is unfulfilled, pain and sorrow will most certainly follow.
But WHO CARES if we misunderstand hope? Why does it even matter? Good question. If we misunderstand hope, then we will find ourselves disappointed, not only in hope, but ultimately in the God who claims to be our hope. We all give lip service to the idea that our hope is found in Jesus, but this often becomes nothing less than a platitude we unhelpfully share with those in real pain. Romans 5:1-8 gives us a clear picture of where hope is grounded, how hope grows, and what the proof of hope is –
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Hope is grounded in the peace with God we have access to through Jesus. This is good news indeed. No matter how dark the paths we seem to traverse in our life might become, our peace is settled. We do not have to convince God to love us, or even like us.
Hope grows through trials. I wish this wasn’t true. I want to grow in hope while experiencing nothing but joy, but that’s just not how it works. When everything is going our way, we forget Who is blessing us, and we end up taking credit for all the great things happening in our lives. When all our own abilities to manage a situation fall short, we are left with a choice: Will we trust that God is still for us, on our team, loving us, caring for us…or not? Each time we choose God, our hope is strengthened. But this is no easy decision. It is far simpler to forget the proof of our hope.
Our hope is proven in the sacrifice of Christ while we were sinners. We should never lose sight of the fact that Jesus took the penalty of our sin upon Himself before we made any efforts to prove our worthiness for this love. This fact stands firm and unchanging, no matter how difficult our circumstances. Before we even have the capability to earn anything from Jesus, He proved Himself as our hope by settling our debt of sin.
So I was considered all these things, I found comfort. Yes, there are things that I do not understand in my life. Yes, I wish I could feel the presence of God a bit more some days. Yes, I want my daughter to not have any more seizures, I want her autism to go away, and I want to understand why in the world my epilepsy would resurface. Instead of these wishes, what I get is the reality that the very same God who created the universe with a word, who came up with the ideas of gravity and planetary rotation and solar flares and waves…is for me. This is what real hope looks like, even if I am left stumbling in the dark in the meantime. When you find yourself at the end of your hope, where do you turn?