But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:14-15, ESV)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23, ESV)
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 42:11, ESV)
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19, ESV)
Hope is a good thing. It buoys us up during difficult times. It provides a positive basis from which we can view our lives. It can be the stuff of dreams. But a thought occurred to me this week about hope. All hope is not created equal ... not by a long shot.
To begin, we need to look back to a verse I found when I did a search using the word hope. I think it sets the stage well for what went through my mind this week. It comes, oddly enough, from the aftermath of the story where God told King Saul to wipe out Agag and Saul took the order under his own advisement. As a result, Saul brought back what he thought would be a "pet king" to keep in his jails. Catching up with the story in 1 Samuel 15:32, we learn that the old prophet has called for Agag. The English Standard Version says, "And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, '"Surely the bitterness of death is past.'"
In my search, I checked the New Living Translation and found that verse to say, "Agag arrived full of hope, for he thought, 'Surely the worst is over, and I have been spared!'" I find the use of the word "hope" very telling here, as it represents the kind of hope we see too often. It's a blind hope that isn't really based in trust or even longing. It isn't even a wishful hope (Paul expressed that many times when he "hoped" he would get to go back and visit a particular church or person). As I see it, it's nothing more than a Pollyanna approach that doesn't take much seriously. And I think we all know what happened to Agag right after he met Samuel.
But the good news here, is that we have a HOPE that is more than just a wishful longing or a blind hope like Agag's. It is something solid, something we can stake our life and dependence on. David knew it - he knew that HOPE could and would raise him up from the depths of depressive despair. The saints through the ages knew it - Hebrews 11 tells a long, strong story of men and women who saw HOPE where others saw none. Paul knew it - he even said if you only looked at this life for hope, you were cheating yourself (see Corinthians passage above).
And Peter knew it. Oh, I think Peter knew it best of all. The man who had seen the absolute depths of his own soul without HOPE tells the church they should not only be confident in their HOPE, but they should be ready on a moment's notice to express the true nature of it to anybody they might encounter - so that by demonstrating a gentle, confident spirit that sees something better ahead, a dark and lost world might join them in their commitment to Jesus and know HOPE themselves.
Hope - it's a funny thing. I really wouldn't want to try and get through a day without it, even if it is that wishful longing for something I might experience in this life. But as I face the twists and turns of the Crooked Path, it is not hope, but HOPE that will sustain me. I won't always know what is ahead on the journey, but I can be assured that HOPE is with me and also waits for me, because HOPE in those terms, is just another word for Jesus.
- Where do you find your source of hope today? Is it the transient type, or the kind that endures?
- Is your hope mainly for this life, or for something better like Paul suggests?
- In your current state of struggle (if that is where you are), can you see beyond it like David and call out to the HOPE that can sustain you?