Thinking Out Loud

February 28, 2019

This Hope

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

On Sunday Ruth was asked to deliver the sermon at the historic First Baptist Church in downtown Port Hope. Although she spoke from an outline, I asked her if she could write it up to share with readers here…

by Ruth Wilkinson

….we rejoice in our afflictions because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces character, proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us…
(Romans 5:3-5)

There’s a lot of encouragement in these words. The writer is telling us our own story, that he gets it; life has problems, disappointments, difficulties. But we choose to continue, to keep trying, to not give up. We build character – purified strength, a clearer understanding of who we are – and we hope. We look forward to better days, to things becoming easier.

Struggle, perseverance, greater strength, hope.

But doesn’t it seem a bit the wrong way ’round? Doesn’t it seem that hope should be listed near the beginning? Struggle, hope, perseverance, strength.

After all, if we have no hope to begin with, why persevere? What’s the point of strength if there’s no hope in the first place?

Maybe we need to understand — What is hope?

We’re all children of our culture. Our worldview is influenced by what we see and hear, the conversations we have, the values we’re taught by school and friends. So what does our culture say about hope?

The obvious place to start is with a dictionary definition – “To desire with anticipation. To want something to be, or to be true.” To desire. To want.

I hope I get a new phone for Christmas. I hope I win the lottery. I hope there are no essay questions on the exam. I hope she likes me. I want this to be. I want this to be true.

Our culture says that hope expresses itself in our lives in different ways:

Hope is a fantasy:

In The Selfish Gene, author Richard Dawkins argues that only purpose that exists in the universe is the passing on of genetic material. Evolutionary biology and psychology define our entire human reality. Our future, our destiny as a race, our purpose, our goal and our hope is continued genetic reproduction.
As a result, anyone who asks the question, “Why?” – Why are there things in the world like suffering, love, and beauty – is a delusional fool.

Hope is the thing with feathers:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet never in extremity
It asked a crumb of me

~Emily Dickinson

The poet paints a picture of hope as something living in the human heart and part of human nature, hardwired and built in. Hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. A mysterious, wordless feeling that, although things are cold and strange, if we just trust the universe it will unfold as it should and everything will be okay.

Hope floats:

The title of this movie is taken from words spoken by one of the characters;

“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.”

We see hope as something that comes from beyond ourselves, an impersonal, outside force that we find on the surface of all that’s uncertain, difficult and chaotic. It floats along beside us downstream, helping keep our heads above water. A sort of cosmic pool noodle.

But if hope is just part of human nature, if it’s just the universe holding our hand, or if it is just a delusion – doesn’t it make sense for it to be there from the start, giving us a reason to endure?

My culture’s understanding of hope is not helping.

*******

Paul, who wrote the verse we’re looking at, wrote a lot of the New Testament in the form of letters to different people and groups of people. He taught and encouraged the very first followers of Jesus who found themselves figuring out what this was going to look like and how we should live.

Paul had a lot to say about a lot of things. The language he said these things in was Greek. Paul was from a town called Tarsus and Greek would have been his first language. It was also at that time a language that many nations had in common, sort of like English is now.

To understand why Paul wrote what he wrote, it helps to look back at the original language; what did that word mean to those people at that time? If they looked at a dictionary, what would it say?

When we look at the word that’s translated into the English word “hope”, their dictionary would not have said “optimism” – it would have said “expectation.” Not “desire” – but, “confidence.”

Not “I hope I win the lottery”, but rather “I hope spring will come soon.” We know it will. It can’t not. We have that confident expectation.

So when he says “endure, build character, find hope” he’s not telling us to work hard and become a better person so we can feel better about how things will turn out. He’s not saying try hard enough, become good enough, feel better.

He is saying that we’re on a path towards something in which we can be confident; on a path toward an ending that we can trust.

So when he writes:

“All creation eagerly waits with anticipation… in the hope that creation itself will be set free from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:20) he’s saying that we have a confident expectation that this wounded, broken world will be made right.

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25) he means that however long it takes, we can be patient, holding to our confident expectation.

“For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope…through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Romans 15:4) is stating that we’ve been given a written record of how God has worked through history, so we can look forward with confident expectation to what He’ll do next.

***

“This hope will not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:5)

We watch the news and see governments who should make things better often make things worse.

Our heroes and public figures who we expect to set an example often make things worse.

Industry and employers we rely on to lay a foundation often yank that foundation out from under us.

The doctor gives us bad news.

And our optimism takes a hit.

Our culture says that hope is a feeling, an emotion, a sense of something we long for. A feeling that something is wrong in the world and ought to be made right. So we hope.

• We want our relationships to be made right.
• We want the government to make good and just laws.
• We want medical science to find answers for things that are scary and painful.
• We want technology to find solutions and to correct the damage done.
• We want employers to open doors, to meet our needs and make lives more secure.

How can we have confident expectation in a world where people and institutions let us down?

We can’t.

***

So what is this hope that will not disappoint us?

One of the people to whom Paul wrote letters was named Timothy. His first letter to Timothy begins with this:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour, and of Christ Jesus our hope.”

Christ Jesus, our hope.

When Paul writes about hope, he’s not writing about a feeling that everything will be ok, or about good karma, or the potential of humanity to make the world a wonderful place.

He’s writing about one person.

And NO, this Hope is not a delusional fantasy. This Hope is the ultimate reality who painted his self portrait when he created us, who came to earth in our skin with a face to see and a voice to hear, who left footprints in the dirt, who left behind the recorded life of a human being.

And YES, this Hope does live in our hearts, bringing us comfort – but even more! He doesn’t sing a wordless tune, asking nothing from us. He sang the Psalms with His people, He spoke, He taught, He called people by name, and gives us a chance to understand the big picture and a chance to work alongside Him to bring it to life.

And YES, this Hope does comes alongside, keeping our heads up, carrying us over chaos and darkness
— but even more! He didn’t just float downstream on the surface of the chaos and darkness, he stepped out onto the surface of the chaos and darkness, he turned the storm into a sidewalk to come meet us to where we are in our hard times, to be the strength that we need to persevere, to teach us how to grow and become stronger and purified in Him, and in our knowledge of who we are in Him.

And this knowledge turns our focus – not to the hard times, not to the hard work, not to the pain of being purified and strengthened – but to the One who is our confident expectation.

And this Hope will not disappoint us.

Another person who wrote a lot of the New Testament was John. John had an experience that he tried to describe for us – what he saw of the big picture.

This is our confident expectation:

We will see a new heaven and a new earth, because the first heaven and earth will have passed away, and there will no longer be any storm-tossed, chaotic sea. We will see the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, adorned in strength and purity like a bride.

We will hear a loud voice from the throne calling out, “Look! God’s home is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people and God Himself will be with them.

God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Death will be gone.

Grief, crying and pain will be gone because creation will have been set free from the bondage of corruption.

And the One sitting on the throne will say, “Look! I am making everything new!”

The one sitting on the throne.

This is Christ Jesus. Our Hope.

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