Words that Matter – Hope
October 11, 2022
Where do you place your hope?
We’re continuing the series on words that matter. This episode is focused on the word hope. This episode answers the questions: what is Christian hope and why does it matter?
What is Hope?
There are several ways to explore hope. Let’s start with this definition: Hope is the confidence that by integrating God’s redemptive acts in the past with trusting human responses in the present, the faithful will experience the fullness of God’s goodness, both in the present and in the future.
Biblical hope is founded on God. Are you getting the point? Hope is based in Jesus, nothing else.
Hope in the Old Testament
First, let’s explore hope in the Old Testament. There are several Hebrew words that, depending on the context, translate to hope in English. In the Old Testament, one verb found in Genesis 49:18, Isaiah 49, and Psalm 37 means to wait or to look for with eager anticipation. Here are the Hebrew and the transliteration “קוה, qwh”
The focus here is on the God of Israel being reliable and worthy of people’s trust. Trusting and hoping in Yahweh is an expression of great faith. God’s people act in ways that demonstrate confident hope that God will act decisively for the salvation of history.
Hope in the Prophets and Psalms
Next, in the Psalms, the hope of the afflicted will never perish. Jeremiah uses a different noun to instill in the people that Yahweh, God is the hope of Israel. This is the same understanding expressed by Jeremiah in addressing Yahweh. Another verb that refers to waiting and has the effect of making or causing someone to hope. In the verb form, it expresses confidence, expectation, and trust. It’s this kind of hope that is the solid ground of anticipation for the righteous. As such, it is directed toward God. All this is based upon trust and expectation.
Explore Psalm 30, Psalm 31, Psalm 33, and Psalm 42 for other examples in the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament, hope is a present action and a promised future that hope is always centered around God. In the Old Testament, God grounds the hope of his people.
New Testament Hope
The New Testament continues to speak of God as the source and object of hope. Paul wrote that to the church in Rome, and early Christians began to articulate their faith that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah. Hope was reinforced in God, our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope. (See Romans 15:13 and 1 Tim 1:1).
In other words, the metaphors of hope applied to God in the Old Testament are now applied to Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah in the New Testament. Both words for hope in the New Testament have to do with trust and confidence. The Greek words are ἐλπίζειν (elpizein), and the noun ἐλπίς (elpis).
These words convey the expectation of what is sure to come. The active faith filling, waiting for God to fulfill that which God inaugurated by the power of His Holy Spirit. The word appears in the New Testament only as a verb or a noun, never as an adjective or an adverb. That’s probably because the emphasis is not on the subjective states of mind that we have when we say hopefully or hopeful. In other words, biblical hope is not that wishful thinking. Rather hope in the New Testament has an objective focus – on Jesus.
Examples of Hope in the New Testament
In Paul’s letters, hope is bound up with eager expectation or anticipation. Paul writes of waiting in hope for the adoption as sons of God through the redemption of the body (Rom 8:23–25); waiting for the hope of righteousness (Gal 5:5); and, above all, “the blessed hope (elpis) and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Paul hopes to honor Christ always in his life (Phil 1:20); but, with even greater anticipation, his death will usher him into the presence of Christ where he knows existence “is very much better” (Phil 1:23).
Hope in the Gospels
There is one other verb in the New Testament that is important to an exploration of hope. The verb προσδοκάω (prosdokaō), means “to await, expect.”
Luke’s Gospel relates the account of Simeon “looking for the consolation of Israel” (2:25) suggesting a positive and hopeful expectation of the coming Messiah. And Jesus used the verb προσδοκᾷ (prosdoka) when He preached about the eschatological future arrival of the kingdom of God (Matt 24:50; Luke 12:46).
Why does Hope Matter?
Hope is both about the present and the future. In the New Testament texts, Christian hope has both an already and not yet dimension. It’s possible to participate in the hope that influences the concrete forms of society now. In other words, we can’t stop embodying the love of God that we know in Jesus and just sit around waiting for Jesus to return that future hope.
We have to embody the love of God that we know in Jesus by witnessing who Jesus is, and by sharing God’s love with others. Christian hope challenges believers to engage. The world to better our social structures. On the other hand, full participation and hope wait expectedly for the second coming of Jesus.
Until then, believers face the crises of life in the tension between the already and not yet. With hope, Christians participate in the future return of Christ. But in the present, Christians exercise, faith, and develop confidence in God to fulfill his promises.
The Wisdom of Hope
We cancel out our hope when we want certainty and reduce our faith to something we can handle. In other words, we may use the word hope, but it’s actually reduced to certainty.
The hope of the disciples is centered on Jesus Christ. There is a mysterious element to the hope that comes from the living God, in and through Jesus Chris. You can try to put words to it. You can try to tell stories about it. You can try to give illustrations.
When we choose the word hope in a podcast and we try our darndest to make it real, the best way we can do it is with the scriptures that keep reminding us of hope.
Let go of the certainty. It’s not bad, it’s just getting the way of the hope that’s going to allow you to be who God created you to be and the world to become what God created the world to be. It’s that certainty that stands in our way. God’s so much greater than what you can put in my mind and what you can feel in your heart. That’s why it’s called hope