There’s a Peanuts cartoon firmly lodged in my mind. It contains the wonderful line that “A whole stack of memories never equal one little hope.”
I think Charles M. Schulz got it exactly right. In the ancient myth, it is hope alone that remains in Pandora’s jar. And “To live without Hope is to Cease to live” (Fyodor Dostoevsky). It is basic, fundamental, elemental. Hope springs eternal.
My thinking about hope this last week has gone in two directions: an association with the future and an association with faith.
Hope is the optimism of faith.
In biblical terms, when faith is directed to the future, you can call it hope. But Hebrews 11:1 (perhaps the closest thing we have to a definition of faith in the whole Bible) reads thus: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The conviction of things not seen…
In other words, wherever there is “full assurance of hope”, there is faith. Faith is the full assurance of hope.
“Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.” Even the rather cynical Mark Twain recognised that factor of future optimism that makes living sweet.
But there’s more: it is also the “conviction of things not seen,” and some of these are not future. Do you see what I mean? “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God” (11:3.) Faith can look back (to creation) as well as forward.
What’s my point?
First, I have to grasp the real nature of biblical hope. This is not a matter of wishful thinking, of crossing my fingers and “hoping” for the best. This is a confidence based on the character of God. God will keep his word. God is reliable. He is “faithful and true” forever.
But second, it takes us into the understanding that Hope sees the unseen. Hope is the optimism of faith. It’s like a prophetic insight into the meaning and possibility of creation and every creature. It is looking at what is and understanding what God is doing with what is.
Think of Jesus in this way. Jesus looked at the people he met and understood God’s purpose for them. He wasn’t confused or distracted by the mess they had made by their own choices. He spoke to the “woman at the well” and the “woman taken in the act of adultery” or Peter or Zaccheus or Thomas….he saw what God intended in every person he met. His sense of hope gave him insight into God’s intentionality. By faith he understood why that person was created…
Paul shares this same view of hope in Romans 4:18. He describes Abraham as the great example of faith, and in particular, of justification by faith. In Romans 4: 22, he says, “This is why Abraham’s faith was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.'” And the faith Paul is speaking about is the faith that God would fulfil his promise by giving him a son, Isaac.
So the faith which justified Abraham was faith in the future work of God. The optimism of hope that God would do what he said he would do! Verse 21 makes this crystal clear: he was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” In other words he had what Hebrews 6:11 called the “full assurance of hope.”
Verse 18 describes how faith and hope worked together: “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations.”
“Against hope” means that from the ordinary human standpoint there was no hope: Abraham was too old to have a child, and his wife was barren. But biblical hope is never based on what is possible with man. Biblical hope looks away from man to the promise of God and the character of God. And when it does, it becomes the “full assurance of hope”—the expectation of great things from God.
“Life rooted in God stands firm”: Proverbs 12:3
Help me, Lord Jesus, to understand my life from your perspective; Help me to see myself and the people in my life the way you do, alive to possibility, and open to redemption and change. Give me that penetrating optimism to “believe against hope” and to understand your purpose. Amen
- The Dark of Faith: A Subtlety in Lumen Fidei (vox-nova.com)
- Cliff-Edge Living? (tithebarn.wordpress.com)
- A Child-like Faith (livingkidsmincrazy.wordpress.com)
- Seeing the unseen (truebeautyministries.com)
- Doubt and Unbelief (tapestrytreasures.wordpress.com)
- 7.15.13 – Abraham’s Credit Card (leadingfamilydevotions.com)
- Hope means switching into Forward (tithebarn.wordpress.com)