Where is Hope?
"I'm old Gandalf. I know I don't look it, but I'm beginning to feel it in my heart. I feel thin… sort of stretched; like butter scraped over too much bread."
Bilbo's lament resonates with me. I've been through a hell of a winter. I might call it 'the winter of temptation'. I've been pushed to my limit on so many fronts. I've found the path of my own making crumbling around me. My strength failing me over and over. It seems like it should be such a simple lesson… To rely completely on God. Yet I've found myself in the same situation repeatedly, counting on my own strength. I guess I have to become completely frustrated in every single area of my life before I will apply the rule. The rule? Yes. The one about relying completely on God. But what does that mean exactly? What does it look like? How do I know when I'm doing it? Until I can honestly answer those questions, I don't think I'll make any headway. I'll continue on like I am now. Every waking moment of every day, wishing I was sleeping. Tiered of life. I haven't done anything creative for weeks. Every evening when I get home, it's just a countdown until I get to go to bed. Where is hope? Why am I seeing it as a vital missing thing in my life right now? Maybe because I see depression as a lack of hope. Maybe because it was the topic of our home group a couple of weeks ago. (Thanks Steph!) What I know is that I don't like the state I'm in now, and I want it to change. But I don't see that happening. Wait. That's not true. There are places where things are beginning to improve. I'm not having to borrow as much money from my parents now. But clearly, that was not the source of my misery. And yes, misery is far too dramatic and powerful a word for what I am. What I am is hopeless.
Hope is listed in the Bible as one of the three greatest things. 1 Corinthian 13:13 "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." Clearly it's an important component of the Christian life. But it's just as mysterious as the other two. I wonder if there are several different Greek words for hope and they all get boiled down to the one English word. (As is the case with 'love'.)
2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
Well, I've got the suffering part. I've been enduring. I think my character has been improving. But I'm not following the jump to hope. How does that work? People of good character have more hope? I guess I could see that. People of strong character tend to be optimistic. But is optimism hope? Let me think of a few ways that the word 'hope' is used… "I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow." "I hope I get a raise." "I hope my children grow to love God." "I hope I will get married again someday." "I hope God's will is accomplished in my life." It is clearly possible to hope for contradicting things. If God's will is that I never remarry, then my hope for such a thing is against His will. It's also possible to hope for foolish things. If I hope it won't rain tomorrow every day, I would live in a desert. So I'm guessing that the hope that character produces, and that doesn’t disappoint us, comes by the Holy Spirit. Nice. I ignored verse 5, and by working the flow out on my own, arrived at the same conclusion. So this is clearly a sanctified hope. Not the willy-nilly variety we grew up with. So I think this Hope is not an optimistic attitude or a whim. This is a God implanted… thing. Yes. A thing.
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27 And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
Here, Hope is waiting patiently for only God-knows-what. Literally. We don't see it. Can't define it. It is so mysterious that only the Spirit can know it, and intercedes for us. One thing that just jumped out at me in these verses is this thought: we can't smooth talk God. We can say "Thy will be done." all day. But He searches our hearts and knows exactly what we want.
So now it looks like Hope is less an attribute, than it is desire from His Spirit that we can't even know. I'm confused.
12 Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
So how can I rejoice in something I can't understand? Well, I guess if I have Hope, I can rejoice.
4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Again, here Hope is connected to perseverance. And that it comes by the Spirit.
5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.
And through the Spirit again. I think I'm seeing a pattern here.
1 Thessalonians 5:
8 But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
These three are listed together again. Here is solid hope type of Hope. A clearly defined objective. A desire that can be described. Salvation. We all hope for it. (In some form or another.) A Christian's hope for salvation is in Christ. The world holds no hope for us.
2 Thessalonians 2:
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,
Yep. It's definitely given to us by God.
And then I hit Hebrews…
18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever…
Ah-ha! So here is finally a verb associated with Hope. We can seize it! (When God sets it before us.) And more on the sanctity of Hope: it enters the Holy of Holys. It follows Christ. Also, Hope is an anchor for the soul. It brings to mind the opposite: the guy in
6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.
Hope and faith are used together so frequently. I'm not sure how to differentiate the two. Take this for example:
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old received divine approval.
And in King James:
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
One thing is clear. 'Things' are hoped for. And again, these 'things' are not seen. So now I clearly see that I can't see what I'm trying to see. Yet...
But there is something of value I've learned on this little safari through the Bible. I can't just get hope to well up in me. I have to grab it. But it has to be offered first. I can't name what I hope for (aside from salvation), but I have faith that He can.
Do I feel any better? No. Is the point of existence to feel good? No. Is the reason for my belief based on a desire to feel good? No. I'll take Truth over comfort any day. Do I hope that I'll feel better soon? Yes. Is that the Hope that is categorized with Faith and Love in the scriptures? I don't think so. Perhaps Hope is not as cozy as I once believed. Or maybe, as usual, I'm missing something.