Advent is a season of waiting with hope. But what is hope? What makes hope explicitly a Christian thing to do? And what’s so important about hope?
It’s easy to use the word hope the way the world does: to mean a desire or a wishful expectation, but not a certainty. One might say, “I’m not sure what I am getting for Christmas, but I hope my wife gets me that fancy coffee maker I’ve been eying.” When used this way hope connotes uncertainty. But in the Bible, the opposite is true: hope connotes absolute certainty. John Piper puts it this way: “Christian hope is a confidence that something will come to pass because God has promised it will come to pass.”
Life is full of uncertainty. Will I remain healthy? Will s/he always love me? Will the economy implode or grow? Will I lose my job? How will my kids do in school? Will I get that new coffee maker? Christians can be no more certain on these matters than anyone else can be. However, we can be certain of God’s promises: God loves us, gives us life through the sacrificial death of Jesus, will welcome us into His ultimate kingdom, will not let anything separate us from His love, works all things for good, will settle things once and for all some day, and the list can go on and on. As Christians, we walk through life with hope because we have confident certainty that God will keep His promises to us and to the entire world. In a world full of uncertainty, Christians rest on a deep foundation of hope.
There is much that can be said concerning hope, but let me share just three thoughts that have captured my attention lately:
- Christian hope is both eschatological and immediate. On the eschatological (end times) side of things, we believe God’s promise to bring a right end to this story we call life and time. We may not know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know (hope) that when all the tomorrows end, God will remain and we will remain with Him. On the immediate side of things, hope puts today in proper light and establishes for us a proper way to interpret our day-by-day reality. We walk daily with a certain discontentment owing to the fact that our sinful world and sinful selves are not as they should be, and are not as they will be. We also walk daily with joy owing to the fact that our sinful world and sinful selves are finding salvation in God through Christ.
- Christian hope is the alternative to despair and indulgence. Paul reminds readers in Romans 13 that because the dawn of salvation has broken and we no longer live in darkness (without hope), we should “walk properly as in the daytime. . .” There are two severe limps that affect those who lack proper hope: despair and indulgence. Paul strikes a blow at the latter when he compels readers to walk “not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.” (Rom 13:13, NKJV) Without hope we have to make the most of today: grabbing and getting and experiencing as much as possible in a maddening attempt to be satisfied in the here-and-now. We could add to Paul’s list of indulgent behaviors the modern-day affliction of consumerism: the strategy of buying our way to (momentary) fulfillment. Indulgence is not the only limp of hopelessness. Instead of trying to fill the void of today, we can also stand in the void, believing there is nothing that will fill it, that history leads nowhere, that no one is in control. Hope frees us from the limp of despair and its modern expression, anxiety. Not knowing creates a deep insecurity and fear that can choke us. Hopeful Christians need not suffocate, for the ultimate confidence is at the core of who we are.
- Christians hope far beyond the future because our memory stretches back before time. Okay, this might be a bit conceptual, but try to hang with me. Christians have hope not just for today or tomorrow or even for a million years. Our hope extends beyond the confines of time, up to and beyond the end of days. And we can hope this far forward because we remember so far back. We know what has happened, not just in our individual life, or within the lifetimes of our family, or the lifetimes of human history, or the time that passed before humans existed. God has gifted us the shared memory of how time began and who was before time. (By the way, I know that phrases like “before time” are terribly problematic. We inhabit time, and our language and concepts are quite confined to this habitat.) Christians remember that God is the author of time, One who transcends time, One who somehow and mysteriously wields time as a tool, One who leverages time as an instrument of His intent. Should your hope be failing, let me encourage you to focus less on the future and more on the past. Indeed, I would offer that your hope can illuminate the future only to the extent that your memory stretches to the past. So recollect and remember. Reconnect the dots of God’s promises, tracing them back through the faithful lovers of God to the One who first loved us and who loved before there was an “us!”
Now that you’re thinking about hope, here are some questions to consider:
- What is one area of your life that is marked by some degree of despair? Indulgence?
- What would it look like for you to upgrade from despair/indulgence to hope?
- What promise of God will help you maintain hope?
- What can you do this week to remember further back so you can hope further ahead?