“I hope it doesn’t rain during the picnic tomorrow.” “I hope their marriage works out.” “I hope this new year is a good one.” “I hope she forgives me.” “I hope the last second three-point shot goes in!”
You don’t have to go far in life to hear people using the word “hope.” In that sense, hope is an everyday human occurrence. But hope is also a central part of the Christian experience—a virtue that Christians celebrate and pray for and sing about. So what’s so different about Christian hope?
Christians have all the same kinds of hope that everybody does—hope that our children will do well, that our lives will be long and healthy, that we will do meaningful work that makes a difference in the world. Who doesn’t hope for those things? But we have another kind of hope too—a hope that the rest of the world is likely to consider foolish, like believing in fairytales. And maybe “fairytale” is the best way to approach it, because what Christians hope for is pretty much the granddaddy of all “happily ever after” stories.
Christians look around at the world just as everybody does, and we see that there are a lot of problems. Okay, that’s an understatement. Try “a lot of evil, and some real horrors, too.” We live in a world where babies die, where people we love get cancer, where our relationships break up, where we lose jobs and get our homes foreclosed on, and become victims of rape and theft and murder. Yes, there’s still a lot of good in the world, and we appreciate that. But some days the horrible stuff is just overwhelming. Some days, all you want to do is go back to bed and wait for the day to be over.
But Christians believe that God has promised it’s not always going to be this way. Hard as it is to believe (even for us, even for me—I’m a natural pessimist myself!), the Bible promises us that someday, there will be no more evil. No more crime. No more suffering. No more horrors. No more death.
I’m talking about the end of the world, when we believe that Christ will return and all evil will be finally and totally wiped out. Christians believe this will happen suddenly, at a time people don’t expect it. God will judge the world and put an end to all terrors, all horrors, and all evil, and the whole creation, including humanity, will be restored to what it was originally meant to be—good and wonderful. And so we look forward to the time Jesus’ follower John described:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And He [Jesus] who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5)
So Christians have an “ultimate” hope, if you will, because of this coming day on the horizon when God will “put things to rights”. But that doesn’t mean we’ll end up in a boring cloud-filled place where people sit around and strum harps all day! The comics really do a pretty poor job of describing what Christians hope for. No, in this new reality we’re talking about, we believe that the good things will still be here—variety, creativity, interest, happiness, pleasure, joy. We think that there will be interesting things to do and people to love. We think there will be challenges—chances to stretch ourselves and become ever more what God originally intended for us to be. Basically, we are looking for all of the upside, but none of the downside…crazy as that may sound. Knowing that this is our future gives us hope.
This can lead to some really bizarre sounding conversations among Christians—“Oh, well, it’s only death,” said one person, and another, at a funeral for a loved one, said, “At least she’s okay now” (meaning the person who had died). It might sound weird, but they really mean it.
There’s also an aspect to Christian hope that has more to do with the present—today even! Christians believe in a God who actively loves everything he has made, including humanity, and is working to heal and restore it. His work may seem subtle, or be hard to see, or come through ordinary things like the people around us or the words in the Bible. But for all its subtlety, Christians believe God’s work in the world through his Spirit is very real and very powerful.
This means we have a different perspective on the challenges we face in this life. Even during rough times we know the character of the God we are trusting with everything that matters most to us. We know that he is trustworthy, and we believe that he is loving; and so even in the hardest times, we are confident that he will watch over us and be with us. And that is a kind of “today” hope.
So Christians have both an “ultimate” hope and a “today” hope. And that robust kind of hope gives us the courage and peace to continue on. Hope makes a very real difference in giving us the courage to get out of bed and walk through the ups and downs of our days and the ups and downs of our lives.