In Romans 8:24-25, the Apostle Paul writes, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
As we’ve said, it’s easy to get distracted by the novelty and pace of modern life, such that we forget to hope. But Advent teaches the profoundly countercultural message that what we ultimately need is not something we can achieve, but it’s something we have to receive. Allowing ourselves to hope involves developing an openness to something we would have been helpless to achieve on our own—salvation through Christ, and the renewal of all things.
And yet for many people, the idea of hope can seem suspicious. In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman’s character (Red) says to his fellow prisoner Andy, “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You better get used to that idea.” From his perspective, the idea of hope (of escaping from prison, or finding a better life someday) was the enemy of contentment. If someone whose situation is hopeless starts to allow him or herself to believe that someday things will get better, that hope can keep them from settling in, and trying to make the most of how things are now.
We would argue that the real issue is not with hope itself, but with what we put our hope in.
Our culture is full of examples of people who put their hope in things that didn’t deliver. Jim Carrey is attributed as saying, “I wish everyone could experience being rich and famous, so they’d see it wasn’t the answer to anything.” Many people who have walked away from Christianity did so because they were led to put their hope in false promises that were made on God’s behalf. The “prosperity gospel,” for example, promises that God will match our faith with financial blessing. As Katelyn Beaty writes, “The giveaway of any prosperity teaching is an ‘if/then’ formula: If you do this, then you will get this. If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate, then you will get tenfold back. If you stay chaste now, then you will later be blessed by marriage and children. Like all powerful myths, it offers the illusion of control in an unpredictable world.”
Again, the issue is not with hope, but with what we’re placing our hope in. When Paul wrote, “If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently,” his whole point was that ultimately, what we’re hoping for is not here yet. It’s not something we can find on this planet. We are still waiting. Hope, then, involves a cultivation of patience and anticipation for the day when Jesus comes back, to “bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Hope launches our imagination and anticipation beyond what we currently have and what we’re able to do for ourselves. In many ways, to hope is one of the bravest things a person can do. Hope in God dares to believe and trust that things will work out—that God is going to come through. And the Scriptures promise that he will. As Romans 5:5 puts it, “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.”
The Holy Spirit functions as a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance until the day Jesus returns to make all things new. On that day, as Julian of Norwich put it, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” It will be a day when, as Samwise Gamgee put it, everything sad will come untrue. As Revelation 21:4 says, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
But not even Jesus knows when that day will be. So above all, the Christian hope requires us to intentionally cultivate patience.
Sometime today, or as soon as you’re able, ask your family one of these questions:
- What could we do as a family to develop our capacity to be patient?
- Do you think hope is a dangerous thing? Why or why not?
- What is the difference between hope and optimism?
- How do you think our family handles waiting?