I have this little pamphlet with a bouquet of flowers on the front cover. It’s called “Hope: Words of Encouragement.” The last tenant left it in the bedside cabinet. So now he’s lost hope completely.
Feeling a little discouraged myself this morning, I began to read it. It starts with Aristotle: “Hope is a waking dream.” With a picture of a puppy.
On the next page was Barack Obama: “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” With a picture of a tree.
As the pages went on, I made a few discoveries. First, I learnt not to try to connect words with pictures. Second, I realised with something of a shudder that if you try to live your life without God, there is not much basis for hope at all.
Here’s an example:
“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.” (C. JoyBell C). (Picture of nesting eagle)
Now I quite like the passion of this writing, but ultimately it’s clueless. Aristotle is dreaming, Obama is do-do-doing and Ms Joybell is saying “Hey, whatever!” Dreams are not enough. Activism is not enough. Bland positivism is not enough. Unless they are tied to something real.
To a purpose.
The saddest and most discouraging “word of encouragement” was from the Diary of Anne Frank: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Considering that this was written by a young girl about to be swallowed up by the Nazi holocaust, I found it poignant in the extreme.
The word “hope” is generally distinguished from certainty. We might say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I hope it happens.”
When you read the word “hope” in the Bible (like in 1 Peter 1:13—”Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ“), hope is not wishful thinking. It’s not “I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I hope it happens.” By contrast, faith and hope, in the Bible, are quite different, overlapping realities. John Piper said “Hope is faith in the future tense.” So most of faith is hope.
So when the Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), this implies that hope, like faith, is also strengthened by the word of God. Hope comes from reading his promises and looking to Christ who made them available to us.
There’s a wonderful verse in Colossians which Peterson paraphrases thus: “The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.” (Col 1:4)
It’s like a rope line, isn’t it? If you want to tow a car, then the rope has to be taut, in order to do its job. And the rope has to be tightly tied as well. If it slips its moorings, then all is futile. But if the rope is secure, and taut, then the job is done easily enough.
So here we can see the right place of Obama’s activism, expressed by the “lines of purpose.” There are things to do, and we better be up and doing. But the present only becomes worthwhile when it is tightly tied to that future in heaven. That’s what gives it value and purpose.
And heaven is Aristotle’s “waking dream” too. It informs our present difficulties with the promise of the future. Hope keeps me awake to the possibilities of God’s future.
And finally, even Joybell’s “Whatever” positivism is nourished by the God who ultimately has it all in hand.
I do not know the way ahead, but I know the One who does.
So let’s look away from the circumstances that confront us, look to Christ, look to the promises, and hold fast to them. Hope comes from the promises of God rooted in the work of Christ.