Hope Floats. Hope Springs Eternal. Hope Chest.
I hope I get that new job I applied for. I hope my car starts tomorrow. I hope… When hope is used as a verb for most people, it is a wish. Something wanted, but not certain. Otherwise, wouldn’t we say, "I EXPECT that I will get that new job?" or "I EXPECT that my car will start?" If we KNEW that these things would happen, there are a lot of other words that impart more confidence than HOPE.
So is hope good? Or bad? Does it help us remain optimistic? Or is it a hollow crutch to lean on when we aren’t being realistic about our expectations?
The concept of hope seems simple on the surface, but start digging a little and all of a sudden a simple word becomes more complicated.
In preparation for a mini Bible study on Hope, I wrote down a few things that came to my mind when I thought of the word hope, like wishful thinking and uncertainty. Then I went to the Bible and read a bunch of passages about hope. And, since I am a "word geek," I also looked up the Greek & Hebrew translations of hope so that I could get more context for the scriptures I read.
I found that there are many words that are translated as "hope" in the Old Testament, but the most frequent translation of hope is from the Hebrew word Yachal, which means "to wait or to be patient."
With this in mind, I located and read all of the verses listed for "hope" in my Bible’s concordance. Since there are so many, I focused on verses that impacted me the most.
Two verses stood out for me. The first was Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (NKJV).
Comforting? Sure. Seems like enough to depend on, but what about when everything around you is destroyed? What about when you are surrounded by affliction and misery and it keeps on coming? Would you be able to hold onto hope then? My favorite verses about hope come from Lamentations and provide an amazing perspective on maintaining hope in the face of great adversity.
Lamentations is aptly named, as it is basically a funeral song, written by Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem. To "lament" is to weep, cry, express grief … In Lamentations 3:1-18, Jeremiah painfully laments that the Lord (in list form to quickly illustrate the woes):
- Led me into darkness
- Turned his hand against me
- Made my skin and flesh grow old
- Broke my bones
- Buried me in a dark place
- Walled me in
- Bound me in heavy chains
- Shut out my prayers
- Made my road crooked
- Dragged me off the path and tore me in pieces
- Shot his arrows into my heart
- Filled me with bitterness
- Gave me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink
- Made me chew gravel
- Rolled me in the dust
- Stripped my Peace away
He says, in 3:19-20, The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
v21: Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
v22: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
v23: Great is his faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.
v24: I say to myself, "The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in
And Jeremiah didn’t even KNOW what the future held! He just trusted God and knew he would be provided for! He knew that God had plans for him, and that they were plans of peace and not evil (back to Jeremiah 29:11).
It’s hard to even imagine having a positive word to say in the face of such misery. Thank God that Jeremiah reminds us that His mercies never cease and begin afresh each morning. Sometimes I really need to remember that …
In the New Testament, the Greek words elpizo and the elpis are used throughout as the translation of "hope." But this is a different kind of hope.
Why different? Well, prior to the New Testament, the Greeks generally considered hope as a negative thing. As a culture that depended on mythological gods or each other for their survival and well-being, they thought hope was bad since it usually lead to having hope in hopeless situations, or being disappointed when hopes were dashed. Consider the myth of Pandora, who out of curiosity opened her mythological box (or jar), and all of the evils of humanity were released into the world. Except one. Hope. Hope, described as Elpis, the angel or goddess of hope. At first blush, I thought that it was cool that hope remained, to give man something to hold on to in the face of all of the evils of the world. But then I thought, why was hope in a jar of evils in the first place? Was man spared or did man suffer because hope stayed in the jar? Does hope help us endure? Or does hope prolong false optimism?
The mythological origin of hope is definitely a different discussion for a different time, but the concept to keep in mind is that prior to the New Testament, the term was very ambiguous.
The translation of hope in the New Testament is "Elpis" or "Elpizo" and means "to expect or anticipate with pleasure," and "confidence, confident expectation." There is not a negative NT definition of hope. It is not ambiguous or vague.
Romans 5:1-5 says, Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
This verse tells me:
- There is hope
- We have access to that hope by our faith in Jesus Christ
- It’s not always going to be a picnic here on earth
The first two bullets seem pretty obvious. Hope, faith, love, la, la, la. Of course the Bible preaches to us about hope… But what about the bad times? Why do we have to go through the bad stuff? Almost every time the New Testament references hope, it references the trials that go along with hope.
I never really thought a lot about why I had to go through the hard stuff. I’d heard the "why bad stuff happens to good people" stories, and the "God has a plan" for us stories that attempted to provide comfort in the midst of tragedy, but I never REALLY thought about it.
But, the more I studied, and coincidentally (?) the more mired in my own personal dramas, the more I realized that God doesn’t want us to just DEAL with suffering, or ENDURE trials & tribulations, He wants us to BRAG about them, EXULT in them, and REJOICE in them. HUH?
Various translations of Romans 5:3 clearly tell us that God wants us to rejoice in hope of the glory of Him, but
… also rejoice in our sufferings (NIV)
… we can rejoice too, when we run into problems and trials (NLT)
… Not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations (NASB)
… Not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings (NSV)
… that’s not all. We also brag when we are suffering. (GWT)
… not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; (KJ 2000)
And I ask again, WHY?
To develop endurance … And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. (Romans 5:4)
The more we are tested and remain patient and steadfast in our faith, the more confident in our hope of salvation we become.
I don’t like going through the bad stuff, but when I’m in the middle of it, and am able to look towards God and thank Him, and know that I am strengthening my faith and hope of salvation, it makes it a little better (OK, a LOT better).
That’s hard to remember sometimes … The world throws stuff at us. We get off track and can’t see the hope. But it’s still there. Romans 8:24 says 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
What is IT? Eternal life forever with our loving God for ourselves, our family, and our friends, which gives us joy & peace here on earth. If you’re not seeing it, or feeling it, or keeping it in mind, there’s this pretty good book that has a few verses to remind us what to do:
- By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:19, ESV)
- Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Cor 13:7, NLT)
- If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. (2 Cor 1:6, NIV)
- We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, (Col 1:11, NLT)
- We proudly tell God's other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. (2 Thess 1:4, NLT)
- May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. (2 Thess 3:5, NLT)
- Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God's promises because of their faith and endurance. (Heb 6:12, NLT)
- Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. (Heb 10:36, NLT)
- Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Heb 12:1, NLT)
- For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:3-4, NLT)
- … and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness (2 Peter 1:6, NLT)
- I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Rev 1:9, NIV)
- I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things. (Rev. 2:19, NLT)
- This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. (Rev 14:12, NIV)
Hope requires PATIENT ENDURANCE and PERSEVERANCE. We don’t have to slay dragons, build pyramids, be super mom (or dad), or be president. We just need to ENDURE. Sometimes this just means getting out of bed in the morning and starting your day. Doing your best. And it’s OK if things don’t go our way or we make a mistake, because Great is his faithfulness; HIS MERCIES BEGIN AFRESH each morning. (Jer 3:23).