Practicing the Presence of Hope
In general, I’m not great at hope. This is because, in general, I just expect unfortunate things from life. Either I expect the unfortunate, or I expect nothing at all. In this way, I prevent myself from that hollow feeling of disappointment and the sharp sting of unexpected pain.
Despite the fact that multiple reliable sources have informed me that this is a “sad” way to view life, it has appeared to me as simply being realistic.
Yet, when I view the world like this, I don’t leave room for hope. I wrap hope in an invisibility cloak and pray it doesn’t show it’s confusing face. Because, the true reality of the situation is: I just don’t understand hope.
Hope makes no sense to me. I do not understand the concept of hoping for a good future, of hoping in affliction, of hoping that life will get better — I do not understand hope at all. I can see joy in the world, but I struggle to find hope in the midst of difficult circumstances. In a world of pain and sorrow and shattered sanity, hope seems illusory and intangible.
Which is why I decided to write a nine page exegetical paper on Romans 5:1–5. While the paper was not optional, the passage we chose was left up to us. So, in order to explore this concept of hope — something that seems so foreign to me — I decided to write on these verses:
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
The most important thing I learned about hope while writing this paper?
I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
I thought hope was something we had to fight and strive for. I thought hope was messy and difficult to obtain. I thought we had to work for hope.
How could I have been so off?
Paul tells us hope is a gift, given graciously through the love of God that has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The word Paul uses for “poured out” literally means “to fill to the point of overflowing.” And he writes about this in the present tense. Picture a cup being poured full to the point of brimming over and over and over — forever. That’s God’s love in our hearts. That is the hope we are given as a gift in Christ.
You don’t strive for gifts! That’s so silly. You receive them — joyfully, humbly, with incredulous gratitude. We don’t strive for hope; we receive hope in Christ.
Even more, hope isn’t something we have to look for like a treasure hidden beneath miles of rocky earth. Hope is here. Hope is looking forward to something that will be fulfilled, but the hope itself is already here.
Because of the grace we now live in, we are able to rejoice in afflictions — because in the realm of grace, life never stops at affliction — because affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces tested character (lit. character that has been “refined by fire”), and this tested character produces hope. Paul isn’t giving a checklist to get to hope. He’s walking through a progression of virtures that, as they mature, result in hope. Even more, hope goes back and feeds into each of the other virtues, strengthening them and producing a richer hope. And this hope is solid. It will not disappoint us before God.
Hope is, then, a virtue less to be strived and struggled for, and more a reality to be realized. The proven character is one that recognizes that hope is already present, in the mercy of God’s love demonstrated to us in Christ, by the reassurance of the Holy Spirit. Hope allows us to joyfully look forward to the future glory of God, while also allowing us to presently rejoice in the reconciliation we have received. Hope is the anchor for our souls, holding us perfectly in the balance of a Kingdom daily recognized and not yet eternally realized. As we eagerly anticipate the completion of God’s work, hope shows us the beauty, joy, and sweetness of the Kingdom of God on earth. Likewise, as we participate in this current Kingdom, though we endure affliction and hardship, hope gives us the strength to look forward to God’s glory. Hope allows us each to say with confidence “Behold, he truly is making all things new.”
I was afraid to hope that I would get to go back to Nepal. I was afraid to hope that moving to Little India would be a good experience. I was afraid to hope for good things from a loving Father, all for fear of being let down.
I’m still not the best at hope. I’m trying to learn, though. I’m learning to be less afraid and more expectant. I’m trying to strive less and to receive more.
In Romans 15:13, Paul beautifully writes what I pray for you, for me, for all of us:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Amen. Amen. Amen.