Consider the indelible impact on the world made by Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Both men led a strong attack on the Christian faith, with Marx calling religion the “opiate of the people” and Freud defining God as the projection of a child’s wish for a protecting, powerful father. Believing that God was dead, both Marx and Freud died bitter and disillusioned men, virtually friendless, without inner peace and overwhelmed with despair and hopelessness.
Contrast Marx and Freud with C.S. Lewis, another intellectual, who embraced the Christian faith and used his talents to influence people in a noble direction. Lewis, if you recall, lost his wife to cancer. He grieved severely, but later emerged from his sorrow with renewed strength and unspeakable joy derived from God on whom his hope was grounded. Unlike Marx and Freud, Lewis had the resources of a living God to see him through.
Lewis’ life revealed, in contrast to a secular view, a hope that is not in us, not based on what we can do or achieve, but rather coming from beyond ourselves.
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. Again, and again, God is called “the God of hope” The apostle Paul referred to Jesus as “Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1 NIV). On another occasion Paul says of Jesus “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 NIV).
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).
The Christian’s hope is encouraged in community. Early believers who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus or were just one generation away from Jesus were under persecution. They were being attacked and assaulted. They were becoming discouraged, filled with despair. The fire was beginning to go out. A letter began to circulate offering words of strength and support. One of its instructions for keeping hope alive was to fellowship with hope-filled believers. Here’s what the letter said, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. . . . Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23,25 NIV). In other words, if you want hope to burn brightly stay in the fire of community, around people who love you and support you and care for you. When you are cold you can draw heat and energy from them, and when they are in despair they can draw encouragement from you.
The Christian’s hope is founded on faith in 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.
The Christian’s hope is linked to the future. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised the exiles who wished to return from captivity to their homeland: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29: 11 NIV). God always has our best in mind.
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. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). 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.
The Christian’s hope is securely wrapped and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle of hope, Peter, reminds us that we can rejoice even in the midst of sorrow and death. “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” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NIV). 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.