Do you have a strong hope? Optimism for those things that are to come? Confidence that things will be right in the end?
Or do you frequently feel that life is hopeless? Perhaps you find that you have nothing to look forward to and the future seems nothing if not bleak.
Relatedly, is your hope and optimism related to your circumstances? That is, do you lose hope when circumstances are hard, and things are dire? Do you find you have more confidence when things are going well?
These are all questions worth asking ourselves, and, as we approach the Bible, the answers to these questions are reflective of how well we understand Biblical Hope.
Hope is a rather important concept in the Bible. It is one of the three foundational Christian values (the other two being Faith and Love) (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13). But Biblical Hope has nothing to do with circumstance; or rather our hope does not flow from our circumstances, but rather dictates how we should approach our circumstances.
It is possible to have hope in the middle of suffering. One could argue that it is in the middle of suffering and conflict and sundry difficulties that the value of hope is seen most clearly.
Some might wonder how you can have hope when things are bleak and life is painful, but the Bible makes it clear that you can. We read in the Scriptures, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5; ESV).”
A Christian’s hope does not come from present circumstances. Our hope comes from a confidence in the promises of God. We have hope because of the character and nature of God. Thus, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (Psalm 43:5; ESV).” And, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope (Psalm 130:5; ESV).”
We understand that God cannot lie (cf. Titus 1:2). Every word of God is pure and He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him (Proverbs 30:5). If God has promised it, then God’s people can trust in it. And this trust, this confidence, produces hope… a hope that is an anchor and a foundation even when things are black and dark and, from the world’s perspective, without hope.
Consider the circumstances of Noah and his family (Genesis 6-9). As they entered into the ark Noah had built they had hope. When all the world around them perished, and the sound of rain beat upon the roof of the ark, and the waters rose and the ship moved, and all was dark for the clouds hid the sun, still they had hope. As days turned to weeks and weeks into months still they had hope. It did not matter how fierce the storm, or how dark the hold, or how lonely the experience, they had hope because God said the storm would not last forever, that there would come a day when their circumstance would change.
Or consider the man Joseph (Genesis 37-50). His brothers threw him in a pit and sold him as a slave, but Joseph had hope in God. His master’s wife falsely accused him and Joseph was thrown in prison, but Joseph never lost his faith or his optimism. As days in prison turned to weeks and weeks to months and months to years, Joseph knew God was with him, no matter what man did to him. Whether slavery or prison, no matter how long he languished within those circumstances, he had confidence that God would see him through.
We could find many more examples from the scriptures. Hope is what Abraham had as his son lay on the altar. Hope is what Paul had while in prison, facing death. Hope is what Jesus had as He approached the cross. Because true hope is not the product of circumstance. It is confidence in the promises of God which allows us to rise above our circumstances as we live for God.
Hope is not for everyone. Men without God are men without hope (cf. Ephesians 2:12). But if we have faith in God, and are walking according to His promises, we have no reason not to hope, and the hope God gives will never disappoint or put us to shame.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.