By Brad Andrews
Richard Sibbes, a Puritan theologian and preacher, once audaciously wrote a 175-page book entitled The Soul's Conflict with Itself on one verse from the Holy Bible: Psalm 42:5 -- "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."
Behind the pristine veneer of Christianity that many confess, deep down there is a raging war inside that leaves most incessantly flustered. There is a skirmish between the craving in our soul for lasting hope and the concrete reality that even on our best days, we actually have very little of it. Exhibit A: Psalm 42:5.
But what is hope? Interestingly, the way we talk about hope is not at all the way the Bible describes it. In fact, the definition of hope found in the sacred Scripture is almost exactly the opposite of how we use it in our vernacular. When we typically use the word hope, we are expressing doubt rather than a deep certitude that what seems elusive is assured.
Biblical hope is not just an aspiration for something good, it expects it to materialize and is assured that it will happen. There is an inevitability that the good we anticipate and long for will transpire. This is a distinctive kind of hope. It is not a "finger-crossing" hope. It is a "thumb-up" hope.
The writer of Hebrews says "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." Notice, hope is something that should never vacillate because it is embedded in the faithfulness of God. One of my kid's favorite activities is to go out to our carport and color with sidewalk chalk. Inevitably, a rain shower will roll in and wash away the creations. Hope in a faithful God is not like this. There is firmness in it that can't be spoiled because God's purposes are like a majestic mountain -- immovable.
There is actually a loftier idea that I see wrapped up in the concept of Biblical hope. The Hebrews' writer also says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
Wherever there is full guarantee of hope, there is faith. Or said another way, faith is the jam-packed self-confidence of hope. But it is more than that.
Faith is also the "conviction of things not seen." It includes hope but is more than hope. Preacher Charles Spurgeon says about this kind of hopeful faith, "Though the 'things' are only 'hoped for' and 'not seen' at present, the eye of faith can see them, and the hand of faith can grasp them."
The Bible describes the patriarch Abraham a man of deep faith that was fully persuaded that God was able to do everything that he had promised (Romans 4:21). It says that he, "... in hope he believed against hope."
Webster's actually has a separate entry for "hope against hope" which it defines as "to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment." This is not the type of hope that Abraham boasted of.
"Against hope" means that from the conventional human perspective there was not an ounce of likelihood that a miracle could happen. Remember, Abraham was too old to have a child and his wife was barren. But hope in God is never grounded on what is achievable by man. Biblical hope gazes to the promise of God. And when it does, it becomes a Hebrewsian hope.
So where should our faith lie? Where does our hopeful assurance come from? I think we find a clue from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians when he said: "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace. ..."
The foundation of our hope is not found within us. It is found outside of us in this reality -- "for he who promised is faithful." Our hope is found in the One who was faithful to us in the person and gracious work of Jesus.
Pastor J.C. Philpot says, "... a good hope through grace is ... how the Lord begins and carries on his own secret operations upon the soul, when he calls it out of darkness into his marvelous light." He continues, "It is not, then, all darkness and gloom with the child of grace; and even if his sky be for the most part clouded, yet rays and beams of heavenly light break in upon his heart; and as these come from the same Sun of righteousness which shines forth in all his unclouded beauty when he gives everlasting consolation, they kindle within a good hope through grace."
It is because of God's grace and mercy we now have unclouded hope. Because of God's gracious act towards us, we now have an expectant confidence found in the gift of his Son, Jesus.
In his book, Sibbes says, "As he is a God of hope, so by this grace ... he stayeth that though as a ship at anchor it may and moved yet not removed from its station. This hope as cork will keep the soul though heaviness from sinking."
When the focus of our hope lies in a faithful God, the swords of doubt and fear in the battle of the soul can be beaten into a heavy anchor for the "ship" of our life. And while the waves of life may crash into the dock, our Anchor is eternally steadfast.
Yes, life is arduous and heavy. But with God, sinking is off the table. Hoping in God buoys us from the undertow. Always.
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