When you use Automatic Transmission, the only way to advance is to switch into “Forward”, right? The engine is on. The foot is hovering over the Accelerator, but there is no movement until the gear is engaged.
It seems to me that the concept of “Hope” is precisely that, the conscious gear-shift preparatory to any advance. Hope means switching to Forward.
Now, of course, we use the word “hope” in various ways.
Hope is- for example- the desire for something good coming your way! The kids might say, “I hope dad gets home early tonight so we can play football together after dinner.” In other words they desire for him to get home early so that they can experience this good thing, namely, playing together in the evening. Or, say: Hope is the good thing in the future that we desire. We say, “Our hope is that he will arrive safely.” In other words, his safe arrival is the object of our hope. Or, again, Hope is the reason why our hope might indeed come to pass. We say, “A good tailwind is our only hope of arriving on time.” In other words, the tailwind is the reason we may in fact achieve the future good that we desire. It’s our only hope.
So hope is used in at least three senses:
- The desire for something good in the future.
- The thing in the future that we desire.
- The basic reason for thinking that our desire may indeed be fulfilled.
Now all three of these uses are found in the Bible. But the most important feature of biblical hope is not present in any of these ordinary uses of the word hope. In fact the distinctive meaning of hope in Scripture is almost the opposite of our ordinary usage.
It is the opposite in this sense: ordinarily when we use the word hope, we express uncertainty rather than certainty. “I hope daddy gets home early,” means, “I don’t have any certainty that daddy will get home on time, I only desire that he does.” “Our hope is that he will arrive safely,” means, “We don’t know if he will or not, but that is our desire.”
“A good tailwind is our only hope of arriving on time,” means, “A good tailwind would bring us our desired goal, but we can’t be sure we will get one.”
Bottom line: Ordinarily, when we express hope, we are expressing uncertainty. It MAY happen but, equally, it may NOT.
But that’s not how the Bible tells it! The Bible’s idea of hope is of a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.
Biblical hope not only desires something good for the future; it expects it to happen. And it not only expects it to happen; it is confident that it WILL happen.
It is different from, say mathematical or merely logical certainty. Mathematical or strictly logical certainty results from the necessity of non-moral laws. If we have two apples and add two more, we may be “mathematically” certain that we now have four apples. That is mathematical certainty. If all men are mortal and if Plato was a man, then we may be “logically” certain that Plato was mortal. That is logical certainty.
That kind of thinking is important. In fact, it is indispensable in all areas of life. But most of our experience is not like that. But there is a kind of legitimate certainty and confidence that does not come from mathematical calculations or merely logical laws that John Piper called “moral certainty.” I like that idea. He goes on:
“I call it moral because it is rooted in the commitment of the will of persons. And the will is the seat of morality. That is, we can only speak of moral right and wrong in relationship to acts of will. So whatever has to do with the will is an issue of morality. And moral certainty is a certainty that is based on acts of will.”
OK, so, I have a strong moral certainty that Val and I are going to stay married to each other as long as we live! This is based not on mathematical laws or merely logical syllogisms. It is based on the character of our wills and the promises of God—which are just expressions of the character of his will. We have over 25 years of evidence about the nature and commitments of our wills and the graciousness of God’s will. It’s going to work!
When we speak of our future, we do not speak in the ordinary terms of hope. We don’t say, for example, “We hope that we don’t get divorced.” We speak in terms of confidence and certainty, because the character of a God-centred will is like iron.
But of course we could be wrong, couldn’t we? Yup, and every Muslim in the world may convert to Christianity this afternoon. And it may be that no lie will creep into any advertising copy for the next five years. And every publisher of porn may go out of business by year’s end because people (ok, mostly men) will gain mastery over their lust.
All these things are mathematically and logically possible. There is no mathematical or logical certainty that they won’t happen. Why, then, do we have such strong confidence that they will not happen? Because we know something about the human will. There is a kind of certainty that comes from knowing the character of a man or of a group of men or a wife. It is not infallible, but it is secure and confident. It lets you sleep at night. It carries you over rough times. Eventually, it can see you right through the grave.
Biblical hope is not a mere desire for something good to happen. It is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future. Biblical hope has moral certainty in it.
When the Word says, “Hope in God!” it does not mean, “Cross your fingers.” It means, to use the words of William Carey, “Expect great things from God.”
Lord, fill me with the moral certainty that you will do what you say you will do! Help me to be absorbed into that assurance until it fills the horizon of all my thinking.
I realise that I am weak and faltering, that my own will bounces about with every wind of feeling. But My hope is in you, Lord! And you are faithful and true to your promises. Let that truth be the measure of my hope today.
- Pie in the sky by and by (johnjustthinking.com)
- Experience and Certainty (theworldtodayandtomorrow.wordpress.com)