At first glance, hope seems like a fairly basic concept that most of us don’t struggle to comprehend. But when we look closely, the term hope, like love, has a wide range of uses. For instance, one can make the claim that they love French Fries one moment and then explain how they love their mom with a mouthful of said French Fries in the next moment! Not many people would question if the person truly understood the concept of love or if their feeling were genuine despite the difference in the object of their love. Similarly, we can hope that our favorite restaurant won't have a long wait for a table, and we can also hope that an infant child survives chemo treatments. We can hope it doesn't rain on our wedding day, and we can also hope that our jobs survive the next round of layoffs.
We hope for basic, fundamental elements of life to play out in our favor. We also hope for something absurdly far-fetched to come true. We toss around hope like it is magical fairy dust. We tie hope to brittle old fishing line attached to our flimsy old fishing pole. We anxiously watch the surface of the water, and we hope will lure in a heavy catch of good fortune.
There is certainly a fine line between positive thinking and hope. Hope should rest in something ultimate – something that requires faith. Positive thinking can take you quickly off course into hopeless optimism because there is no ultimate mark you are trying to reach. Positive thinking will keep wind in the sails for some time, but you're sure to just sail in circles if you aren't keeping course toward a destination.
Over the last several days, I’ve told people that I can’t imagine what our suffering would feel like if we didn’t have any hope. If we didn’t have hope, would our marriage withstand the death of a baby boy in the womb just 6 months after losing our week-old baby boy Simon? This hope that Amy and I speak of is not hope in one another. I’m not hoping that Amy will fix my pain. I don’t have hope that she has some inner power that will sustain me. Likewise, I don’t look in the mirror and draw out some inward source of hope. The kind of hope I’m talking about is not a natural resource. It doesn’t exist inside me like an oil reservoir just waiting to be pumped out.
For hope to sustain, it must steadfastly cling to something ultimate. My hope continues to build through knowledge. My knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ’s real story sustains my hope. Diving deeper into historical information and real accounts of Jesus both alive and resurrected build my trust in God’s story. As trust builds, hope flourishes. And my hope rests – like a flag planted proudly at the top of a high mountain summit– in heaven. Heaven is the ultimate. Heaven (and New Heavens and New Earth) is where the brokenness is replaced with beauty. Heaven is where we are reunited with those loved ones who followed Christ and preceded us in death. Heaven is a city, where we have bodies – not a cloud-filled place where everyone gets angel wings and plays harps while wearing dreamy smiles.
I’ve been faced with big questions of where things like heaven, death, disease, suffering, sex, fitness, creation and nature fit into God’s story lately. Digging into these topics and relating them to what the Bible says has only continued to solidify me in the truth of God’s word. I want to encourage those who feel called to find answers to these big questions of life to double-down on the study of God's word. Supplement this by listening to Podcast or reading books from Tim Keller, Andy Stanley or other teachers. Say a quick prayer asking God to reveal truth to you.
My hope certainly waivers. When death and more death enter into my life, I have trouble seeing beyond the grey, cold fog directly in front of my face. In my dreams I am vulnerable, and nightmares begin to creep in. I still make plenty of bad decisions. Sometimes I drink too much and swear too much. Sometimes I chase things that will give me momentary pleasure and lasting regret. These things squash my hope. But the reason they squash my hope is because I was putting too much hope in myself. I was looking for me to sustain my happiness, even though I know happiness is only a product of fleeting situational conditions. When I focus on what the Father wants for me, joy rises up and hope shines light in all the dark corners of my soul. When I put my hope in Jesus’ promise, I move forward boldly and feel the grace and acceptance of a loving Father even in the trials of life.
For more reading on hope, I love Romans 8 in The Message version.