When we think of hope, we normally turn our thoughts to the future. And hope does refer to the future. The Christian thinks of what we called ‘the blessed hope’, which comes from Titus 2:3, referring to the final appearing of Christ to make all things new.
However, hope is not just for the distant future, meaning the next life. Hope is just as much a reality for today, for this life. Not too long ago, I noticed a statement in Scripture about hope beginning in this life.
Paul is in the midst of reminding the Corinthians of the gospel that was passed on to him of which he now proclaims (1 Cor 15:1-8). He then moves on to tell us that, if it has been preached that Christ was raised from the dead – which it was! – then you better believe this has ramifications for those in Christ. There shall be resurrection for them as well (1 Cor 15:12-19)!
And he puts in what might be seen as a kind of odd statement, at least odd to Christian thought today:
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (vs19)
Here’s the oddity.
For many today, we spend time trying to convince people that eternal things – such as the three greatest of faith, hope and love – are actually important for today. The eternal is usually pushed into the future, hence our need to persuade of their significance now.
However, Paul finds himself in a situation very different and opposite from ours. The given seems to be that hope started now. His efforts were rather spent in reminding the Corinthians that Christian hope projects ultimately into the future – with the resurrection of God’s people following the prototype, Jesus Christ.
There’s always a need for solid balance. If we end up over-emphasising either the now or the future, we will get a bit off track. Nevertheless, there is a time to help swing the pendulum back towards the centre. And it might call for a little belabouring of the point to do so.
So we might just be on the opposite pendulum swing from Paul and Corinth.
Of course, one might say: Yes, but we already know that eternal things are for now, this very present age, even where sin and brokenness are rampant.
Yes, but what of hope?
Hope seems to mainly carry the connotation for a very distant future. Not to mention that we tend to view hope this way: I hope it happens, but I’m not very certain.
And, you know, hope does carry a future element to it. Because our hope is that something, especially of God, will take place (that’s future tense). There is something we don’t yet see – like renewal, restoration and recreation of all things in Christ. But what of renewal, restoration and recreation NOW.
So what is hope defined?
Waiting for something to come about that has not yet come about.
How do I come to such?
The well-known Heb 11:1 states this: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Jews were adept at what we call parallelism – meaning they would regularly say one thing and, within the same statement, they’d communicate a very similar message, but in a different way. So maybe it’s ok when preachers and teachers do this in their messages – repetition.
In Heb 11:1, confidence and assurance are synonyms. And the same stands true for the phrases ‘what we hope for’ and ‘what we do not see’. That’s how I come to the above definition for hope: Our waiting for something to come to fruition that we do not yet see.
Therefore, as noted, hope will always carry an element of the future. However, to push it always to the distant future, the final summation of all things, can be unhelpful. Thus, we take note of Paul’s words embedded in his letter to the Corinthians. There he is addressing the future resurrection of God’s people. But his starting place is now, the present life.
Hope is to affect now, this life, what’s going on today. And it even speaks a word where we find brokenness, sin, pain, hurt, injustice. Of course it speaks to these! Hope following the Boston marathon bombing. Hope following the brutal murder of children in Newtown. Hope in the midst of a doctor’s gross abortive actions. Hope as one endures rejection and betrayal.
Hope for healing, hope for restoration, hope for reconciliation, hope for deliverance, hope for provision. The hope of God that affects life today.
Perfectly? No. Truly? Yes.
And not just of hope, but also of love and of faith and of joy and of shalom-peace and of grace and of mercy and of forgiveness and of justice for the poor.
We are speaking of now. We are speaking of today.
If only for this life we have hope…
Hope begins now and will one day be fulfilled in all fulness in the future.