“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3
Peter’s letter to the “elect exiles” focused on enduring suffering, but the driving force of the letter was hope. We may wonder how hope helps us to endure suffering.
Biblical hope is different than how we often use the word “hope.” We use it often to mean “wish.” We use it for something we desire, but of which we have no assurance. For example, I might say, “I hope the weatherman is wrong, and it doesn’t get into the 90s today.” There is no assurance in this. I am just wishing that the weather stays cooler, despite no evidence that it will.
Biblical hope is different. It is backed by an assurance. It is like the hope a farmer has for rain when he can smell the rain off to the west, he can feel a change in temperature, and he can see the dark clouds coming in. The arthritis that he has in his right hand begins to act up, as it does each time rain approaches. He cannot yet see the rain nourishing his crops, but he has an assurance that is coming. He has hope!
The fact that this farmer has hope is driving everything he is about to do. He might get the farm ready for the coming storm. He might put animals in the barn. He might cover some equipment. Hope leads to action. The extra work is worth it. Enduring the pain from the arthritis is worth it. The rain that he has prayed for is coming. He gets to work with excitement and eagerness.
When a woman goes into labor, she faces excruciating agony. However, she knows that the suffering is worth it, because she is hopeful for a new baby. The apostle Paul makes this analogy for all of creation in his letter to the Romans. He says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Romans 8:19-22
All of creation was like a woman in childbirth, who endures suffering, because she is hopeful for the moment a tiny baby is placed into her loving arms. True hope brings the level of endurance of childbirth.
Hope allows us to withstand suffering in this world, because it comes with assurance. This grid can help us to understand Biblical hope.
In the upper left quadrant, there is a high desire for something, but no assurance. This is the realm of wishfulness. It’s like me wishing for cooler weather. It tends to lead to disappointment, because my desires are not aligned with reality.
The lower left quadrant has no desire and no assurance. It is an area of hopelessness. If someone would ask me about my chances of becoming the next great sculptor, I would say it would be hopeless. I have no desire for that, so I do not practice it. And, given my lack of artistic talent, I have no assurance of that ever happening. I would be in the hopeless category.
The lower right hand quadrant has a high assurance, but a low desire, and it is where we face dread. Imagine your dentist calls you, and says that he has been looking over your x-rays, and has found a cavity. You can either come in for a root canal, or you can suffer one of the worst toothaches you ever had. You desire neither of these, but you are assured that one of them is on the horizon. So, you dread it. Your assurance is high; your desire low.
And finally we have the upper right quadrant. This is where our desire and assurance are both high. It is the hope we have “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And it will affect everything we do, including how we respond to suffering.
We access this desire and assurance of hope through faith. It is in trusting the words of God given to us in scripture that we can have this hope. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Faith is our access point to hope. Without trusting the words of scripture, we have no assurance of what is said. Love is what produced the hope, and is the direction the hope will lead us. Just as the farmer gets to work when he is assured of rain, despite the pain of his arthritis, likewise so will the Christian get to work in love, despite any suffering.
Current events can seem dreadful. We see pastors being arrested for holding church services in Canada. We see Christians being sent to concentration camps in China. We see Christians being murdered in Nigeria. You might wish for something better. You might see the current situation as hopeless. But those of us who have been “born again to a living hope” have something that can bring us joy through it all. It is an assurance that no man or government can take from us. It is hope.
If you find yourself feeling dreadful, hopeless, or disappointed in wishes that never come true, don’t stop desiring. Increase your desire for the sure hope that is in Christ.