What God’s Hope Is, What It Isn’t,
and Why It Matters
God’s hope is different from what you might expect. We use the word hope all the time to mean different things. In fact, much of what we call hope could fall into three categories: wishful thinking, blind optimism, and personal dreams.
Wishful thinking is when we try to hope things in or out of existence. It’s when we blow out the candles on our birthday cake and say to ourselves, “I hope I stay healthy for another year.” It’s when we pick up the Wall Street Journal and say, “I hope the prime rate drops again.” It’s when spring training begins and we say, “I hope the Cubs don’t disappoint me again this year.” (Hey, hope springs eternal!)
Wishful thinking is a kind of hopeful feeling that maybe, somehow, some way, things will go the way we want them to, even though we really don’t have any power whatsoever to make it happen.
Another kind of hopeful attitude is blind optimism, like the guy who fell off a thirty-story building and yelled out as he passed the fifteenth floor, “Well, so far, so good!”
While it’s good to have a generally optimistic outlook, some optimists see everything through rose-colored glasses. They paper over their problems as if they didn’t exist. They avert their eyes from the ugly aspects of the world. To them, everything’s just fine all the time-never mind the facts.
It’s like the joke about the parents of two young twins. One of the boys was a depressed pessimist; the other was an incessant optimist. The parents were getting worried because each child’s personality was becoming increasingly extreme. So just before Christmas, the father said, “We need to do something to break them out of their molds.”
The parents decided to put dozens and dozens of shiny new toys in the pessimist’s room, and to fill the optimist’s room with piles of horse manure, hoping this would change their attitudes.
The children went to their rooms for a couple of hours, and then the pessimist came out. “Did you play with your new toys?” the father asked eagerly.
“Nah,” moaned the pessimist. “I never even opened the packages. I was afraid that if I touched them, they’d just break, and then I’d be disappointed.”
That’s when the optimist came bounding out of his room that had been filled with horse manure. He was all smiles. “How come you’re so happy?” asked the dad.
The little boy beamed and said, “I just know that if I keep digging long enough, I’m going to find the pony!”
Do you know people like that—optimists who pretend everything’s always great and who gloss over problems in their lives?
And then there’s hope that takes the form of personal dreams. These are the lofty goals we set for our lives and which we work so hard to achieve. In other words we don’t just hope for a new car, but we begin saving for one. We don’t just hope we’ll become a better golfer, but we take lessons and spend time on the practice tee. We don’t just wish for good health, but we begin to watch our diet and participate in an exercise program.
Generally, there’s nothing wrong with that. But problems arise when our personal dreams are restricted by our own limitations or when they fall victim to factors beyond our control.
For instance, I suppose a lot of General Motors workers had personal dreams of job security and retirement, but that didn’t stop GM from announcing one day that they were going to eliminate thousands of employees. Unfortunately our dreams are often at the mercy of others.
Biblical hope is different. For most people, hoping is something that they do, but the Bible talks about hope as something they can possess. We can actually grab hold of it. For someone who follows Jesus, hope is the secure expectation that He is both willing and able to make good on the promises He has made to us.
The Bible refers to this as “living hope,” because it’s linked directly to the resurrection of Christ. The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3-4: “In [God’s] 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.”
You see, through His decisive conquest of death, Jesus demonstrated that He really is God and that He really does have the power to fulfill His promises in the pages of Scripture. Promises to change our lives. Promises to guide us. Promises that He’ll cause good to emerge from our personal difficulties. Promises that His followers will spend eternity with Him.
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,” says Hebrews 6:19. Usually I hate to use sailing analogies because I can get seasick drinking a glass of water, but an anchor is a great metaphor. Our hope is only as good as what we anchor it to.
Let’s face it: In and of itself, hope doesn’t have any power to change reality. We hope for this, we hope for that, and we might feel better for a while. We may even fool ourselves into thinking everything’s okay. But the only way hope has any real power is when we anchor it to the God who has real power. And not only real power, but a heartfelt desire to help.
And I think Jesus would say to you, “Whatever you’re facing, I can infuse hope into your life—a hope that’s firm and secure. In fact, let Me describe for you two specific ways I can introduce hope to you—by absolving you of your past, and by assuring you of your future.”