"Hope is the heart's deepest longing," says David Aikman. The notion of hope, like many words today, requires clarification. The word is often spoken of as if synonymous with wishing. We use the term to denote a vague longing for something that we want but find unlikely to happen. We hope our problems disappear, our bank accounts multiply, and our children turn out perfect.
Yet hope as it is defined in the Christian worldview is more robust than a wish, more fixed and sure than a vague longing. It carries the idea of delayed but guaranteed fulfillment. It is the kind of assurance that something set in motion will, in due time, come to fruition. The farmer sows in hope that the seed, though buried, will produce a sure crop. Similarly, the Scriptures ground the concept of hope in the nature of who God is, what God has done, what God has promised.
In the cultural milieu of the New Testament times, the gospel dawned with a power and force that challenged the prevailing worldviews and burst in with a vision of life that transformed the world: if the gospel is anything, it is a message and way of hope. It is therefore imperative that Christian hope be distinguished from wishful thinking, power mongering, or pipe dreams.
The apostle Paul and many other New Testament writers describe God as the "God of hope." The word "hope" itself is used 85 times in the New Testament alone, and throughout the Scriptures it is stressed repeatedly that relationship to and with God is the ultimate ground of hope. To the Roman church Paul declared, "For in this hope we were saved... 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." The apostle anchors believers in the certainty of hope and in the need to wait. The end will come, and until then we trust in God and lean on the Holy Spirit and his promises.
The effects of modernity and secularization are seen most clearly in our inability to see beyond the present, to think outside of our own circumstances, or to believe God for sustenance or change. This life, this world—the now and the immediate—come to shape and control our focus, our wishes, and our concerns. But here, Paul sets our earthbound lives beside the eternal purpose that can inform all we are and do. Becoming a people of hope means cultivating an eternal perspective, the ability to see God in the midst of trials, to persevere in the face of despair and pressure.
The point is not to undervalue life in this world, but to set it all in context. Afflictions must be weighed in the light of eternity. Our hopes and expectations are anchored in a greater and ultimate reality that is both certain and transforming. Afflictions do not become less real, nor are they unimportant or less painful, but they are limited in their reach and possibilities by the knowledge that they, too, shall pass.
The three prongs of Christian life are faith, hope, and love. It is easy to emphasize faith and love whilst ignoring or neglecting hope. Yet hope is essential and unyielding. As the writer of Hebrews proclaimed, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf." Christian hope is infectious; it is real, it is secure, and it is a valuable signal to a world full of shallow hopes or no hope.
Stuart McAllister is vice president of training and special projects at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.