The Importance of Hope

At the beginning of the last century, there was a great optimism in the future of mankind, particularly arising from the huge technological advances and scientific discoveries made over the previous century. It was a time when everything seemed to be moving in the right direction, it seemed all problems could be overcome, and that man was essentiality the master of his own destiny. Just over one hundred years ago in 1912, the infamous building of the cruise liner the Titanic epitomised man’s optimism and overconfidence in his own creation. Of course history tells the tragic story of Titanic hitting an iceberg and sinking in frozen waters on its maiden voyage. If there had been adequate lifeboats, then possibly there would have been no loss of life on that fateful night, but such precautions were not considered necessary on a ship that was impossible to sink. Shortly after in 1914 the First World War was to claim a staggering 35 million casualties, including over 15 million deaths. The war ended in 1918 which is when the pandemic Spanish Flu took an estimated 50 – 100 million lives and an estimated 27% of the world population had been infected. A few years later on 29 October 1929 beginning in 1929, known as Black Tuesday, came the Wall Street Crash, where the US stock market collapsed and caused the following 12 years of the Great Depression, by which time the world was at war again in the Second World War lasting until 1945. Needless to say, the optimistic outlook at the beginning of the century had been radically changed to pessimism, and the cold war years of 1946 to 1991 ensured that mankind remained under a blanket of doubt and uncertainty concerning the future.

Of course this is a simplistic view and there are many other events which can be included for our illustration, more recently the rise of terrorism seen so dramatically in to the Twin Towers attack. The latest threats of Global Warming, global economic failure, numerous wars in different nations around the world (10 with over 1000 deaths per year 27 with under 1000 deaths per year, Wikipedia), natural disasters, earthquakes, hurricanes, tidal waves, flooding.

Around the world over one million people commit suicide each year, a figure that has increased considerably over the last twenty years, and the main reason given for any explanation are summarised by the absence of hope.

The world is desperately looking for hope. Hope does not focus on the present but is looking for reasons to be optimistic about the future. Mankind needs hope. We need to know that everything works out okay in the end. When that is difficult to see in the way things appear, we are left with discouragement and hopelessness, hopelessness leads to despair, and despair to destruction. Behind this of course unknown to most is Satan our adversary attempting to divert our gaze away from God, who is the source of all hope, so he can lead us into deception by the illusion that we are masters of our own destiny. In our efforts man looks to the politician, or to the doctor, or the bank, or to his own plans into which he places hope that he is in a position to make improvements in his life or the lives of others. To some degree there is much good which is both right and necessary that we should make every effort for improvement, but we must also be mindful, that there is another clock ticking other than the one we wake up to.

As a generalisation there are four main philosophical views of history

  1. Cyclic view of History – history goes around in cycles, history repeats itself. This is a Greek view of History. Things just go on round and round. No purpose or pattern
  1. Epic view of History – history goes forward in ups and downs. Good times and bad times, boom and bust, there is an overall move forward
  1. Optimistic view of History – history is getting better and better all the time. This was the most common view of history in the beginning of the 20th century, summed up in the word progress. The view with the scientific and technology advances gave an optimistic view of society. The Titanic represented man’s invincibility, and was said to be unsinkable. But it did sink, and challenged man’s optimistic view. The sinking of the Titanic was shortly followed by the First World War, and then the great depression, then the Second World War. And so the optimistic view was greatly affected.
  1. Pessimistic view – things are getting worse. The word now is not “progress” as with the optimism of the early 20th century but “survival”. The “doom and gloom” experts believe we are on a downward slope, where it might be slowed down but not stopped. The world will eventually come to own demise, and life become impossible. For instance shortage of food reserves, global warming etc.

None of these four views are in alignment to the Biblical view. The Bible presents

  1. The Apocalyptic View – the world will get steadily worse, then radically impacted with dramatic improvement.

God does not only exist outside of time (which was Greek philosophy), but time exists within God. He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the Last. In God there is a linear fulfilment of time, with a definite beginning and a definite end. There is a very real purpose and meaning in what has happened historically, what is happening now and what will happen in the future. This is all leading somewhere.

It is to the future that Christian faith looks with the expectant understanding that what lies ahead is so glorious it gives us hope for the present. No matter what our present circumstances we have hope because we know God will in the end make everything better. He has declared a new Heaven and a new Earth, eternal life, resurrected bodies and much more. We have hope today, because of what will happen tomorrow.

Herein lays the importance of the Christian message, that there is a meaningful and very real alternative. Our God is a God of hope, and our message is a message of hope. That behind the scenes, God is very much on His throne, and working His ultimate plan which He purposed in Christ before the very beginning of Creation.

Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit

1 Cor 15:9 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Heb 6:17-19 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

Notice here:

  1. Unchanging nature of His purpose
  2. God confirmed it with an oath
  3. He did this so that we may be greatly encouraged.
  4. This assurance in the consistency and reliability of God (that He does not lie, and is the same yesterday, today and forever Heb 13:8) gives us hope
  5. This hope serves as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
  1. What does an anchor do?
  2. An anchor secures a vessel to a fixed point to prevent it from drifting in the movement or flow of currents.

This hope is therefore essential to keep us firm and secure in our own walk with God, but also as a beacon of light for others to find safe harbour in a world that offers no acceptable alternative.

Notice also the hope here is based upon a purpose and a promise

  1. Understanding the purpose or plan of God is key to our hope
  2. The fulfilment of the promise depends upon the reliability of the one making the promise, and the power of the person to carry it out.

Possibly there are not many things with greater importance than understanding the hope to which we have been called. Paul includes it in his prayer for the Ephesians

Eph 1:18,19 “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

This plan of God was formed before the creation of the world

He has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time 2 Tim 1:9

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight Eph 1:4

This plan of God was previously hidden before Jesus first coming, even though the prophets had an understanding, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” 1 Pet 1:12

This plan of God will be completed when the times will have reached their fulfilment.

“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment-to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Eph 1:9-10

To summarise at this point, we are saying that our God is a God of hope. This hope is not in the ranks of wishful thinking or wilful optimism, but is rooted in the promise and eternal purpose of God. God is at work to bring to pass that which He has purposed from before Creation. We are on His timeline. There is a very real direction that we are pointing in, and a very real destination that we are heading towards. As true believers our hope is not in this life, although there is much on offer for us in the present, but our true goal is not in what we have now, but in what lies ahead. For us to have hope, we must therefore also understand the basis for which this hope is anchored. To have hope we must know this eternal purpose of God. It is here, that we know turn our attention.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Pet 1:3-7