If God did not exist, we would be without hope. But because he does, there is always hope. All this may sound like a cliché to many, but as the days grow darker, the need to reaffirm this basic truth becomes all the more important. As everything around us seems to be crumbling, we need an anchor – and that anchor is hope in God.
And when I write pieces like this, I am writing for myself as much as anything. I need to be reminded of these truths, because I so easily can get overwhelmed by what is happening. It is so easy for me to want to just give up when every new day brings even more bad news – spiritually, politically, socially, culturally, etc.
But I must not give up, because God does not give up on me. He must be my hope when everything around me becomes hopeless. And often God allows everything to be taken away from us so that he alone is left. I recently wrote about this in relation to the book of Habakkuk: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/09/18/habakkuk-trust-god-nations/
I know I am not alone however in bouts of despondency and discouragement as the whole world seems to be spiralling out of control. Many are feeling the same. I just had someone share this with me recently: “Just saw someone write: ‘I have had a gut full (of the battle).’ It is how many feel. Tired and very weary.”
I replied, “Yep, but we get a big rest in the next life.” But I certainly understand the feelings of weariness, exhaustion and despair. I will keep fighting the good fight until the day I die, God willing, but I sure can relate to those who are tempted to just want to give up.
It becomes so overwhelming at times. Indeed, it is getting really bad out there, with anti-Christian bigotry and persecution increasing by the day. Someone else recently asked me if I am ready for martyrdom. I replied: “We all have to be ready – and real soon. What’s the point of calling ourselves Christians if we are not willing to go all the way for him, just as he went all the way for us?!”
So we have to persevere and stand strong. But it is tough going. That is where hope comes in. It is an integral part of faith, as we read Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
Biblical hope is not just hope in hope, or hope in ourselves, or hope in our circumstances always being rosy. Biblical hope is all about the one we place our hope in: God himself. It is because God is ever true, ever faithful, ever trustworthy, and ever in control, that we have hope.
The Bible speaks about hope hundreds of times. Let me just offer a few of these passages. One of the most amazing texts is found in a book that really does demand a place for real hope: Job. Here is a guy who lost everything, yet he could make an incredible statement such as this: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).
The Psalms of course speak often about hope as well. Here are a few of the key passages:
-Psalm 9:18 But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.
-Psalm 25:3-5 No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
Show me your ways, LORD,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
-Psalm 33:18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love
-Psalm 62:5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.
-Psalm 146:5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.
-Psalm 147:11 the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.
The prophets too speak about hope, which is noteworthy, given how much they speak about God’s wrath and coming judgment. As Isaiah puts it (40:31): “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
And Lamentations, which may be the gloomiest book in the entire Bible, also contains a message of hope in the midst of so much judgment, despair and grief. Right in the middle of the book we find 3:21-23:
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
The New Testament also runs with the idea of hope in numerous places. Of interest is Matthew 12:21 which quotes from Isaiah 42:4: “In his name the nations will put their hope.” It is not just individuals who can have hope in God, but even the nations.
Paul often speaks about hope, and often it is in the context of suffering. A famous passage of his in this regard is Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Similar thoughts are found in Romans 12:12: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer,” and in Romans 15:4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
As mentioned at the outset, those without God are the ones without hope. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 2:12: “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”
It is Christ particularly who is our hope. It is not just that he offers us hope but he is our hope: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1). And finally, a passage I alluded to earlier: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).
Thus we must always ‘keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2). If our eyes remain transfixed on this world and all that is going only we will lose hope real quick. The state cannot be our hope. Politicians and leaders cannot be our hope. Other people will let us down and prove to be a poor help in time of need.
So as things get ever darker all around us, there is all the more need to look much more intently and continuously on the only one who can give us hope. God will not let us down. He is our rock. He is our fortress. Let me finish with the mighty hymn by Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Although the word ‘hope’ is not found in the four stanzas, the entire hymn engenders and celebrates hope:
1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
2. Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
3. And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
4. That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.