Cicero gave us the well-known proverb, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” Was he right? A few years ago, the psychology department of Duke University conducted an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. In one container the experimenters placed a rat for which there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few minutes and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container, they made the hope of escape possible for that rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally drowning. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of Cicero’s statement, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The Duke experiment proved, “While there’s hope, there’s life.”
Hope brings life. While faith belongs more to the intellectual and love to the emotions, hope concerns itself with the will. Hope is medicinal. Hope is that vivacious virtue that can transform despair, defeat, and death, knowing that there are no hopeless situations there are simply people who have grown hopeless about them.
Your situation may appear bad, hopeless in fact. Your job may be slipping away. You may be wondering where you are going to get the money for the Christmas presents this year. Your marriage may be unraveling. Your children may be causing you to pull your hair out. Or, any of a number of things that may be causing you to ask, “Why go on with life?” Let me remind you of the words of social critic, Richard John Neuhaus: “The times may be bad, but they are the only times we are given. Remember, hope is still a Christian virtue, and despair is a mortal sin.”
Keeping hope alive keeps us alive. The ugliest words in the English language may very well be, “There’s no hope.” How can we hang on to hope? How can we keep going when all the odds are stacked against us? How can we continue when we feel like giving up?
Hope is based on God.
Outside the Bible, especially in our society, hope consists of a half-hearted optimism unsure of its basis. It has no anchor. It freely trusts in one ideology after another, from Marxism to capitalism, materialism to idealism, religiosity to secularism, legalism to license. Or society’s hopes are more clearly focused but are in objects that cannot satisfy hope: a career, business opportunities, marriage, children, money, security, a new home, and so on. The secular version of hope becomes like Sinbad the sailor who anchored his craft to what he thought was a sturdy atoll, only to discover that it was a big fish which dashed off with sailor, craft, and all.
The Christian’s hope is not subjective but objective. It is subjective in that it is a feeling. But it is objective in that clings to something real and powerful. For the Christian that something that is beyond us and is objective is God—the living God. God is both the inspirer and the object of hope.
The Christian’s hope is not fleeting but guaranteed and assured. It is based on the promises of God, guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and appropriated by faith. That’s why a believer can sing, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” As the writer of Hebrews stated, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19 NIV).
At those moments when we are overwhelmed by disillusionment, discouragement, depression or even despair, we must never forget that God is the anchor for our hope.
Hope works best in community.
Ever watched a campfire? The logs and timbers in the fire dance with magic as they burn together. But when an ember rolls away from the fire, it quickly burns out. It can’t sustain its warmth or its fire. People are a lot like that. Together in community we gather warmth from each other, the fire of optimism burns brightly. But separated and alone from the group we turn hollow and cold, dying on the inside.
Hope is encouraged in community; despair often comes in isolation.
Pulling closer together keeps hope alive; existing far apart is certain demise.
The Christian faith is a hope-filled faith because of the God of hope and the people of hope. God is the source of all hope. And his people are the purveyors of that hope. The church is the epitome of community, where people can come in from the cold brutality of life and get warm. Without the church we are like the ember separated from the fire. We grow cold, despair overtakes us, and we lose hope. Hope grows as we attach ourselves to a Christian fellowship group for caring and supportive help.
Hope pertains to the future.
We speak of hope now and in the future, but never hope for yesterday. Hope always has a future focus. Saint Augustine said, “Hope deals with good things, and only those which lie in the future, and which pertain to the man who cherisheth the hope. When hope attains its object, hope ceases to be and becomes possession.”
When we understand the future focus of hope, we are able to look at the events of life in a new light. We realize, for example, that out of suffering there is good. Hope knows to look beyond the painful realities of this life. Through suffering God is either teaching us a lesson or preparing us for something grand. He can turn our “disappointments” into “His appointments,” which hints that the thwarting of my purposes may be God’s better plan for me.
We also come to understand that out of sorrow there is life. Christian hope is securely wrapped and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection of Jesus, we mortals have a glimpse of immortality. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has been translated from an ending into a beginning, from a period to a comma, from a conclusion to an introduction, from a final destination into a rest stop.
The Christian life is hope experienced. A hopeless Christian is a contradiction in terms. For our hope is based on God and his promises, is cared for in the community of believers known as the church and is granted fulfillment in heaven through eternal life.
Hope and life are inexplicability woven together. Real hope, lasting hope, is a God thing. To know God is to know hope. To know God’s people is to have hope strengthened. To know the certainty of God’s heaven is to have hope reign supreme.