Paul talks about three things that are central to what Christian faith should look like: faith, hope and love. Pages and pages of writing could be devoted to any one of these three, but I want to spend a little bit of time looking at hope, which I feel is perhaps the easiest to skip over. I wonder if people assume that they understand what hope is, because it’s such a common word in day to day life. It certainly feels like it’s not given the same level of attention in church as the other two receive. But I want to look at this little word and try to see why Paul said that it is so central to Christianity.
There are a lot of people around me who would brush off the hope that I have as wishful thinking. In their minds, my hope for resurrection and eternal life is, at best, a comfort against the terror of nothingness that they see as following death. At worst, they see it as a complete delusion.
When I see people calling my hope wishful thinking, there often seems to be the implicit assumption that because they have labelled it wishful thinking, or ridiculous optimism, it can’t be false. How could something so good be true? This way of thinking is circular. The logic here says that my hope is absurd because it’s wishful thinking, but, by definition, that it’s wishful thinking because it’s absurd (if it’s true, then it’s surely no longer wishful thinking).
I see reality very differently. The way I see it, my hope is far more than a comfort in the face of death. It is the logical, natural conclusion of all that I believe to be true, just as nothingness is the logical conclusion of an atheistic worldview. Eternal life is such an integral part of Christian belief because this worldview centres on the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the very purpose of which was to restore our relationship with God to perfection. In my worldview, humans were created to enjoy an eternal relationship with God – it is the pinnacle of our existence. Thinking about it, it’s probably worth me writing another post to explain this in more detail!
Anyway, Christian hope is basically looking forward to the culmination of everything that we believe in. It is not enough to brand my hope wishful thinking if you haven’t taken the time to understand that it is the product of something far more powerful than existential fear. Equally, it is essential that we Christians don’t reduce our hope to nothing more than this, and that we understand why we hold the hope that we do (if you’re wondering about this, just go back and read the gospels).
We live in a tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’, and there is a balance to be struck. On the one hand, Jesus has already forgiven us and given us work to do, and the Spirit to live alongside us – this is our present reality. On the other hand, we will not see God clearly and enjoy complete perfection until Jesus returns. It is easy to forget either aspect. If we have no hope for the future, then our actions today are in danger of losing perspective and meaning, but if we only look to the future and ignore today’s work, then can we really say we understand the power of what Jesus has done for the world? Are we really loving people like he did? I’m basically repurposing James’s words about faith and works, because hope is really the understanding of where our faith is pointing.
Understanding the hope that we have is the key to appreciating the power of Jesus’ victory in our lives, and it should spur us on to see others share that hope. For those who see it as wishful thinking, I hope that you will at least pause to consider where this hope comes from and why it means so much to so many people. And to any Christians reading this, I hope that you have had a chance to remember how awesome Jesus is, and that this future hope will spur you into action today!