“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next…It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
People have tossed that word around and trampled it under foot so much it is hardly recognizable any more. “I hope so” has come to mean “probably not.” Hope has become synonymous in the vocabulary of many with “wish.” In today’s secular progressive world, hope is seen as some dim desire for a better life.
But what about the Christian? Surely, hope has a much more viable and vital meaning for us? After all, one of the central themes of the season of Advent is hope. We are a community of hope, right? I wish.
Hope, in general, and Christian hope, in particular, are intractably related to the future. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery says, “The essential quality of hope is that it is oriented to something in the future that one expects but does not yet possess (Rom. 8:24-25).” Achtemeier’s Bible Dictionary says, “hope, in the Bible the expectation of a favorable future under God’s direction.”
It should be obvious why this blog begins with that particular quote from Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Hope is about the future. Not just the future in general but a very specific future in both the realm and presence of the Almighty Himself! As Lewis suggests, we cannot successfully (from a Kingdom perspective) navigate this life without paying close attention to matters that are of little concern here.
Today’s Christian is good at hoping that God will provide what he doesn’t yet have in this world. We’re good at hoping for healing of all kinds. We know the verses and quote them doggedly when there is sickness in the body, lack in the bank account, or strife in the family. Whatever our needs are in this life we hope with great expectation that Jesus will provide for them. It is wonderful and inspiring to hear testimonies of how God more than fulfilled the hopes of people in their want and need in this life.
And yet, all this focus on what God can and will do for us in this life is strangely not translating into growing churches or cultural relevance. You can call it church bashing if you want but anyone with eyes in their heads can see that the local church today has less influence in society than it did forty years ago. We can lament this reality by blaming the rise of secularism, humanism, and progressivism (which have all clearly played a part in the diminishment of Christianity in America). But what is responsible for their cultural ascent? “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
We are failing at biblical hope. And according to Scripture, that is a very dangerous thing to fail at. Hebrews 11:1 states that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” [emphasis mine]. If we don’t possess biblical hope then there is no way we can have authentic Christian faith and most students of the Bible know that the author of Hebrews goes on to say “without faith it is impossible to please him” [God] (11:6).
We’re good at hoping for God’s intervention here and now but what about hoping for things like beholding His glory (Romans 5:2) or our reward in heaven (Colossians 1:5) or divine vindication (Psalm 23:5)? In both Christian and Jewish traditions Abraham is known as the father of faith. Why? Hebrews 11 says he wouldn’t even build a home for himself because “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (v. 10).
That is Kingdom faith and there is precious little of it around today because our hopes are so grounded in what we need to sustain us in this life.
I believe this is caused by a lack of the fear of the Lord even in the Christian community.
The whole world seems to be swept up in an entitlement mentality. Entitled to trophies. Entitled to a college education. Entitled to a job. Entitled to food on the table. Entitled to a visit from the pastor. Entitled to a big youth program at church. Entitled to status. You cannot convince me that the entitlement mentality hasn’t seeped into both the way we do church and think about God.
When is the last time you heard a sermon on God’s glory, the heavenly banquet, or heaven itself? If you set aside our infatuation with the book of Revelation, how often do we consider angels, evil, or the actual return of Jesus Christ? We don’t yearn for eternal life…God owes it to us. We don’t “hunger and thirst for righteousness” once we’re saved…we’re too busy demanding divine intervention in life’s troubles.
What I’m saying is that biblical hope is every bit as powerful and majestic as biblical faith. Without it, we become cocky, arrogant, and self-congratulatory. Why? Because hope is tied directly to what we don’t yet see, have, or possess. Paul put it this way to the Romans: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (24-25). And I would add…humility.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus ended the Sermon on the Mount so harshly?
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to the, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
These are people who think they have it made with God. They call Him “Lord.” Their lack of humility before Christ on Judgment Day indicates they lived as if they were entitled to the very things they seldom thought about because they weren’t of this world and therefore what they wanted.
Maybe the point is best made in this short little song sung by those who are before God’s throne just prior to the return of Jesus Christ as recorded in Revelation 19: 5:
Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.
It’s no accident or coincidence that little song is sung by heaven’s inhabitants right before Armageddon.
Consider this: the hope we have in that which we cannot possibly envision is what assures us of the likelihood we will experience it. And, that, is why we walk with a spring in our step to fulfill the calling in our souls.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).
Hope. It does a soul good.