What is Christian hope? Is it simply a feeling that things will get better? Is it just optimism? Or is it something more?
Well, hope certainly brings a feeling that things will get better, but it is more than a feeling. It is more than optimism. Optimism is a way of thinking. Hope is a way of being. Optimism is subjective. Hope is objective. Optimism comes from you but hope come from God.
He is its source, but what is its content? We hope in God (and that is of first importance); but what do we hope for?
We are hoping – this will sound completely foreign to many of us – for the end of the war. Not the Afghan War or the Syrian War. Not the war on drugs or the war on terror. Not the culture wars. These are border skirmishes and diversionary feints. I am talking about the war to begin all wars, the war into which we – and all humans – are born: the war between good and evil, light and darkness, heaven and hell, God and satan.
We who have never been in combat will have trouble grasping our true situation, but those of you have fought in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq will understand. You know the longing for the war to be over. You know the hope of being victorious. When the war that began all wars is over, our children will never again be captured by evil, our lives ruined by greed, our families split by hatred, our minds wracked by fear. Our nation will not be torn by hatred or our loved ones deceived by untruths.
When this war is over, we will start again and, unlike the last time, we will not start off on the wrong side. We will have peace, joy, and love. Death itself – the last of our enemies – will be undone. For this we wait. For this we hope.
We have this hope because we have this God. He will not put up with injustice, violence, and exploitation for much longer. And because we belong to him, we won’t put up with it either. We will work against these things, knowing that our labor is not in vain.
We are waiting and hoping for a world where everyone matters. Where love reigns. Where evil – not just in actions but in motives and thoughts – will trouble us no more. The early Christians summed up all this – the end of the war, the joyful peace, the restoration, the rule of love, the death of Death in one word: resurrection.
With the exception of two occurrences (one when cruel businessmen lose their hope of making money and one when weary sailors lose their hope of being rescued), the Book of Acts always links the word “hope” to the resurrection. Resurrection includes the new beginning, the restoration of creation, the redemption of our bodies, and the enthronement of the good and just King Jesus. Christian hope is resurrection hope.
The Bible expresses this in beautiful ways. It says we hope in the riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints. We hope in salvation, in eternal life (that is, in the life of the age to come), in the appearance of Jesus upon his return to earth, and in our transformation, when we will receive glorious new bodies that have been designed to be like his body.
For too many of us, resurrection is a doctrine but not a hope. It is something we commemorate on Easter rather than something we long for throughout the year. But people who know they are in a war live in hope for these things, in the hope of the resurrection.
Years ago, I met Scott who was in the last stages of ALS. My friend Dave Brown introduced us. When I went to visit him at his home, I found an emaciated young man confined to a bed. Near the foot of the bed was a Lazy Suzan of sorts that someone from Lockwood had built. It held Bible memory verses. Scot would turn the Lazy Susan with his toe – one of the only parts of his body he could still move – and in that way read and memorize the verses.
I sat in a chair by his bed and we talked. Scott told me that he had only recently become a Christian – a beautiful story in which Dave had played an important role. After we had talked for a while, I asked him if he was afraid of dying.
He then told me something – and it was hard for him to talk, so I had to listen closely – that I have never forgotten. He told me that the last two months – since he had come over to Jesus’s side – had been the two best months of his life. I looked at him in wonder. Here was a man from whom everything had been taken. His former life was gone. His world was a bed. His body was a prison. And the last two months had been the best time of his life.
How was that possible? What had happened? The God of hope had come and put hope in his soul.