Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “Finding Hope When Everything Feels Hopeless.” The thesis of the post was that people today feel hopeless and need hope. But hope “feels increasingly elusive,” with COVID, the election, winter, and more weighing on people’s minds. Author Elizabeth Bernstein suggests that hope “guards against anxiety and despair. And it protects us from stress…”
She also recognizes that what most people cling to as “hope” is simply wishful thinking. She suggests that hope needs “agency…to accomplish the desired goal. And a strategy, or pathway, to do that.” So hope, unlike wishful thinking, is attainable. She suggests that hope is “malleable. You can boost it.” Then she lists several ways to “boost” hope:
- Measure it
- Read history
- Future cast
- Take a small step
- Watch your words
- Spread hope
By those means, she suggests, we can move beyond wishes and dreams into attainable realities that we can mold, achieve, and obtain.
Is she right? By reading history and visualizing a future that fulfills our desires and goals, can we attain what we want with certainty?
No. Not in my life, anyway, and I doubt in your life either. Visualized dreams inevitably end up as dashed dreams. There is no certainty with visualization. Attempting to “cast our future” is simply a dressed-up way of saying “dreams, desires, and longings.” Imagining the future is a long ways from attaining and securing the future.
If that is true, then is there any hope for anyone? Is there any certainty in life that won’t leave us with crumbled desires? There is.
Two thousand years ago, Paul exhorted his readers this way: “rejoicing in hope…” (Rom. 12:12).
In this instance, Paul is using the word “hope” as the biblical writers generally do — he is using it as an objective reality. He is speaking of the confident expectation of what the believer will receive as the end of his salvation. So hope is not something wished for and desired but uncertain and unattainable. Biblical hope is desired, revealed, certain, and attainable, though not yet fully received. God has told us what we will have from Him in the future, and that promise is certain because He is certain and unable to lie.
Note that this biblical hope is certain because there is (to use Bernstein’s phrase) agency to accomplish the goal. But the good news is that you and I are not the agents that procure our hope. Our fallibility means that we will inevitably fail to accomplish our goal. We won’t attain. And dreams will die. But in this case, God is the agent of our hope, and He cannot be thwarted. What He promises, must be accomplished.
What is this hope (confident promise) that He gives?
- It is the covenantal promise of God to Israel to be their King and to make them His eternal people (Acts 28:20; Rom. 4:18).
- It is the promise that even creation will be loosed from the effects of the fall of Adam into sin (Rom. 8:20-21).
- It is the promise of our complete redemption and freedom from sin and our adoption as God’s sons (Rom. 8:23-25).
- It is the riches of glory and the coming inheritance we have as saints and sons (Eph. 1:18).
- It is all the promises that are preserved by God for us in Heaven (Col. 1:5, 27).
- It is everything that is revealed and granted to us through Christ (1 Tim. 1:1). He is our hope. When we have Him, we have the full content of our hope.
- It is the promise that God gives (and will give) us all good things to enjoy out of His rich treasures (1 Tim. 6:17).
- It is the promise of our future resurrection, based on the resurrection of Christ (Acts 23:6; 24:15; 1 Pt. 1:21).
- It is a provision that will not disappoint (Rom. 5:5).
So when Paul says that we are constantly to be “rejoicing in hope” (Rom. 12:12), he means that we are constantly to find our joy in the security of what God has promised and accomplished for us through Christ. No, we aren’t the ones who accomplish and secure this hope. But that also means that unlike worldly “hopes,” our hope is guaranteed and absolute.
This hope is not the one of wishes and dreams, but one a confident and secure expectation. It is still future, yes, but the reality of it is sure because of the One who promised it (God the Father), the One who secured it (Christ), and the One who guarantees it (the Holy Spirit). And nothing can take away that confidence. No catastrophe. No enemy. No evil. Not even death. It is a living hope. It has begun already and continues on into eternity. It is a living hope different from every other living thing we know. It is living and it will stay living. We know our hope (i.e., confident expectation) will stay alive because our Savior has remained alive. Nothing can take His life. Nothing can take our life.
Because our hope is a reality, our “reality” is not hopeless. So stop thinking wishfully, and start thinking (and rejoicing) hopefully.