When a F5 tornado plowed its way through Joplin, Missouri, a few weeks back, thousands of people were left homeless. Hundreds were left hopeless. Hundreds more simply hung on to hope. Of the 50-thousand residents of Joplin, more than 150 went missing in the hours and days after the twister. Stories of horror emerged from the twisted debris of people being sucked out a window, ripped out of a car, or simply vanishing into the wind. Loved ones held out signs and passed out pictures in desperate hopes of finding their beloveds alive. As days turned into a week, their hope darkened into a somber plea to find their loved one at all. Eventually for some, hope died. But for others, it was rewarded with a tearful reunion. Through the past few weeks the number of missing has diminished greatly with only a few folks unaccounted for. Considering the great loss, I’m not sure that can even be called a good thing.
Hope is a huge concept that dictates how we live our lives, whether a Christian or not. Those with hope live with the belief that circumstances and people can change. Self-help and outside-help are often called into play to change the lives and circumstances of the person with hope. Essentially, hope is an enabler of change. For those without hope, however, bitterness and resignation are rules of the day. Everything’s bad and it ain’t gonna change. Same with everyone. They ain’t gonna change, either. Someone without hope is resigned to fate, living to see what happens to them next instead of living to create what’s next. I know these are generalizations, but hope and change seem to go together, the same with no hope and resignation.
But is hope always a good thing? Are there times when hope works against the soul, against the heart? I would think so. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In the case of a missing person, the searcher just wants to know something. Where are they? Are they alive? Are they…dead? Anything. The searcher can hope and hope and hope the person is alive but what happens when the missing a.) never shows up, or b.) is found dead? Hope seemed like a futile exercise then, doesn’t it? So is it better to know definitively than not know? To have an answer than wait in silence?
Herein lies the difference between human hope and biblical hope. Human hope knows nothing. It’s guesswork. It is based on well wishing and not given fact. This doesn’t make it bad. It just doesn’t make it reliable. Biblical hope, on the other hand, has God at its foundation and is based on promised certainty, not well wishes. It’s anticipation of a given, an anticipation that produces perseverance through difficulty and joy in fulfillment (Rom 5:1-5). You see, if God says something will happen, whether a blessing for obedience or the end of the world, hope kicks in until that promise comes true. If He says comfort will come to those who grieve in Him, hope kicks in until that comfort comes. If He says the dead will not sleep forever but resurrection will come with a reuniting in heaven, then hope kicks in until that day comes.When He says all who have faith in Christ have been given eternal life, we hope in that promise and live according to that hope.
In essence, the Christian holds on to hope like a baby’s blanket. God says, we hope, then God delivers. We don’t always see Him deliver fulfillment to every hope during our lives on earth. Some hopes are “far-future” hopes, like resurrection, end of the world, and, sometimes, vengeance on enemies. But during our lives, we see Him deliver on day-to-day hopes. We always have our daily bread, we always have grace when we mess up, we always have an audience with our King in prayer or praise, and many more things. And we can always hope in the character of God when society pressures us to defame Him.
Human hope is a good thing because it allows us to change and grow. Losing hope causes us to turn to stone. Biblical hope is a great thing because it is grounded in the promises of God and will always find its fulfillment in His timing. Human hope leaves room for the possibility of change but it can also disappoint if change doesn’t happen. Biblical hope assures that there will be change. It does not disappoint.
Further reading: 1 Peter 1:3-5; Romans 5:1-5; Romans 15:13