I was recently talking to a friend facing daunting struggles, and we both shared a blooming hope in our heart for better days ahead. It was a hope that seemed almost irresponsible to hold onto since it wasn’t based on our circumstances. We have both felt the truth of Proverbs 13:12 in the past which tells us, “Hope delayed makes the heart sick.” A sad heart on top of physical suffering was hardly what we wanted for ourselves again. Yet here was hope springing up within our hearts.
I’ve thought a lot about hope in recent months. What does the Bible tell us about hope?
If there is one thing that draws me again and again to the Bible, it is hope presented there. Not a hope that dazzles with promises of riches and power, but a hope stronger. It is a hope with meaning, beauty, love, and true power. But sometimes life wants to whisk that hope from your hand.
As I have wrestled to keep hope in hand during the winds of misfortune, I’ve been meditating on what it means to have hope. Is it only heavenly hope, or does the Bible offer hope for this life too?
Thomas Aquinas said, “Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand.”
That phrase, “not at hand,” is stuck in my head right now. There are certain things “not at hand” in my life right now – perfect health, a good five-year plan for our lives (we had one, but selling our house and getting sick from mold/Lyme upended it), and a certain sense of earthly security.
But our deepest hope – a new Heaven and a new Earth, where perfect, joyful, pain-free lives will be ours – is not only “not at hand”, but it is still out of sight.
So why do we have hope when it remains out of view?
Because of Jesus.
Easter is coming up, and with it the poignant reminder not only of the reason we can be children of God, united with him again, but also a reminder of hope after darkness.
It was the darkest of days when Jesus died. His disciples lost hope and lost their courage too. Jesus himself wept tears in the garden and cried of his abandonment by God during his last painful breath. It is a reminder to us that while Christ chose this path to rescue us, it was a difficult one.
We are used to death ending our days here on earth. We are not used to coming to a tomb to pay our respects and finding angels casually letting us know that, “He is not here, but he has risen!” (Luke 24:6)
Few knew at first whether to be glad or terrified or a mixture of both. But they ended in joy. I’ve always loved the promise Jesus gave at the very end of the book of Matthew, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What a sweet and strong promise to give us hope.
It’s a promise strong enough to hold onto during dark days of loss too.
But does it give us hope for our earthly lives?
I don’t believe in a “health and prosperity gospel”. That is, I don’t think that if we only had faith enough we would be rich and healthy. Jesus seems far more concerned that we not be greedy and that our riches don’t hold us back from him (Matthew 19:16–30). Paul seems far more concerned about preaching the gospel than avoiding a painful life (2 Cor. 6:3-13). He seems far more concerned that we give our money away than we keep it (2 Cor. 8:1-2). Suffering as a Christian seems to be expected.
That said, you can get whiplash moving from a health and prosperity gospel to the views more commonly shared in my theological camp – Reformed. Suddenly, suffering is embraced so thoroughly you’d think that people ended their day by asking for more of it, or that Christians should bask in the harsh light of pain. Acceptance of pain and suffering is a focus, with a hope that God will use it.
I do have faith and hope in God using suffering in our lives.
But can I also have hope and faith in God bringing relief and better days?
To this question, I have been meditating on the greater and deeper hope of our eternal future, but also the more immediate hope that the Bible gives us in so many stories.
Ruth lost a husband, left her community where she had position, friends, and family, to a place where she was in danger, where starvation was a possibility, and where she could have little hope for another spouse. Yet, the story ends with not only heavenly hope, but earthly goodness too. She finds safety, a future, and more stability than she could have ever imagined. More, she was grafted into the family of God, and became an ancestor of Jesus.
The Book of Job contains a story of suffering so wide and deep that people often avoid reading it. Yet even in the most famous story of suffering, God restores Job’s health, his respect, his earthly goods, his community and extended family, and gives him more children as well. These good things don’t “make up” for what he lost. They do show that when Job was simply wishing for death, he had little idea that dawn was about to break on his dark night.
Joseph was betrayed by his family, sold as a slave, falsely accused, and imprisoned for many long years. I’m sure he also thought only more suffering awaited him, when suddenly his fortunes changed. Not only did he suddenly find himself in a position of authority, power, and influence, but he was also the instrument for saving his family.
These stories aren’t written down for us as a template for what our futures will be, and certainly there are no specific promises that we also will rise from the ashes of our suffering this side of Heaven.
But they do give us a picture of what type of God we serve. He is a God who surprises us with joy when we have given up on it, often in ways we never expected.
That the Bible is so littered with these reversal stories gives me hope in a God who often breaks through our dark days with unexpected hope and joy – sometimes after years and years of hardship. I’ve seen it in the lives of those around me more times that I can count. I’ve seen it in my own life too.
The last few years have been tough. But this spring, as blooms burst out after a chilly winter, and as we approach Easter Sunday where we are reminded of the greatest reversal of all time – Christ defeating death through death – I am also reminded that he is a God who loves to restore and renew.
I feel God planting a seed of hope for better days ahead. Not perfect days. Not days without the ups and downs of life. But better days. The end of the Proverb quoted above tells us, “but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Amen. May it be.