Putting Flesh on the Bones of ‘Hope’

Hope is a hard-to-define word today. When we say it, we often do so with fingers crossed. For instance, if you ask me if I think the Warriors will win the NBA Finals next year, all I can say is “I hope so.” What I really mean is “I don’t know, but there’s a chance!”

We apply “hope” to things we’re not sure are actually going to happen. But that’s not how the Bible uses the word.

Overwhelmingly, when the Bible uses the word, it’s in the context of sure deliverance. Scripture uses “hope” when God has spoken. Because when God speaks—even if promising a future reality—it’s as good as done. For the Christian, “hope” is no mere slogan. It’s as real as the tomb is empty.

Hope in Man

Part of why “hope” has lost meaning is that fallen humans keep making the same mistake: putting hope in people, places, and things that inevitably disappoint. As a result, we’re naturally skeptical of hope.

When the Bible uses the word ‘hope,’ it’s in the context of a sure deliverance.

Pinning our hopes on human leaders is one of our greatest temptations—and sources of pain. In his Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Denial of Death, social scientist Ernest Becker described what he called the “hero system,” a sort of longing we have for authoritarian leaders. We long for them because they promise power, prosperity, and security. If we align ourselves with them, we think it will lead to the good life.

Yet as we’ve seen throughout history, both distant and near, to align ourselves with such leaders often means we destroy others. Author J. Todd Billings puts it like this

The authoritarian leaders of the right and the left gain power because we fixate on their virtues, their causes, the promises of their respective legacies. And as we do so, we shut out and dehumanize others. The faces and voices of those opposing our “righteous cause” must be eliminated—whether poisoned in gas chambers or starved on government-owned farms—to achieve our heroic vision. 

We can justify a lot of bad things when we channel “hope” into another fallen human. 

We can justify a lot of bad things when we channel ‘hope’ into another fallen human.

We hope our leaders will provide us security and stability. We hope our money will provide us freedom and joy. We hope our abilities will provide a life with minimal suffering.

But is not all of this and more found in Jesus Christ? 

Hope in the God-Man

In Romans 8:24–25, Paul explains: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

We read “hope” five times in these two verses. But when Paul says “this hope,” which hope does he mean? It’s the hope of the “not yet” becoming the “already.” It’s the hope that bridges the gap between our present dealings with the ramifications of sin and a future when—by faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross—we won’t have to deal with sin’s penalty.

We lay hold of hope by faith. Hope and faith, after all, are inextricably connected: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The essence of faith is that we have the assurance, the biblical hope, of things we can’t put our hands on now. But we know one day we will.

We hope because Jesus is seated at the right hand of God’s throne (Heb. 12:2), with all authority and power in his hands. We hope because the Bible tells us he’s going to return to earth to make all things new. We hope because Christ will one day quiet creation’s groans—and we’ll taste and see the fullness of what we can’t now.

This is the hope we need—the sure, enduring hope our hearts really desire. 

Live in Light of Hope

In a world where “hope” can be a trite sentiment and meaningless word, Christians must live in ways marked by hope in the real, solid, biblical sense. This means when we face suffering and calamity, we can look past the “light and momentary affliction” they bring us, to the hope of glory (2 Cor. 4:17). 

It also means we should pray earnestly for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9–13). Creation awaits the day when the sons of God are fully revealed (Rom. 8:19–21). It’s like the entire cosmos is waiting in line at midnight to see the final Avengers movie—anticipating the drama and catharsis of how the epic will end. As God’s children, we should plead with Jesus to come quickly (Rev. 22:20). Show us the ending.

And it certainly means we must live into our calling as God’s children. We must act justly in this life (Prov. 11:1). We must be prepared to lose our jobs (Matt. 5:10–12), our family (Luke 12:49–53), and our very selves as potential costs of holding tightly to the hope of our crucified and risen Lord (Mark 8:34–38).

Humans by nature need hope. What’s more, we need true hope. The Christian life is difficult, so we need a hope that makes the difficulty worth it. We need the living hope of the One who said, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Spoken by anyone else, “take heart” is a phrase we should take with a grain of salt. But from the mouth of Jesus—the Creator of all things, the One in whom all things are held together (Col. 1:17)—they are words we can trust, words we can live by, words we must eagerly share with a desperate and hopeless world.

Putting Flesh on the Bones of ‘Hope’

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