Voices > Soul Food

Hope doesn't float

It is an anchor for the soul that keeps us from going under

Issue: "Smoking guns," March 6, 1999

Recently a national leader expressed his discouragement at the state of the nation and his perception of a frustrated conservative agenda. "We are dead in the water," he said. "We're hopeless until we get new leadership." His discouragement made me realize how, if there is anything that must define us as Christians, it is that we are people of hope. I realized this truth on my first trip to Russia in 1993. I felt conspicuous walking down the streets of Moscow and could not figure out why. I wanted to blend in but it was obvious people knew I was not Russian. I asked the group of educators with whom I was working whether I was noticeable because of my clothes: jeans and a Chicago Bulls shirt. "No, it's not your clothes," they replied. "What is it, then?" I asked. The dozen or so teachers huddled together and talked for several minutes. One of them, speaking for the group, answered politely, "It is your face." "My face!" I laughed. "How does my face look different?" They talked again and then one of the teachers stood and quietly said, "You have hope." The first two Christian virtues-faith and love-are easy subjects for sermons and seminars. The third- hope-often gets left out, perhaps because of the way we currently use the word. When we say "hope" we usually are referring to a longing or desire, not a certainty. Biblical hope, however, is the ground for the other Christian virtues. Faith and love find their truest expression only in the biblical reality of hope. Faith makes all things possible; love makes all things easy; but hope gives all things meaning. Hope is a confident expectation that all God has promised will come to pass. True hope is an anticipation of the future (1 Corinthians 15:19): "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." For this reason, hope has its most powerful personal benefits in times of suffering (Romans 5:2-4). But while hope's focus is the future, the consequences of biblical hope make us conspicuous in a world of despair. True hope is inaccessible to a world without God. In our postmodern society, we are time-locked in the eternal present. We have a deranged attachment to things, to symbols of success, to short-term victories, to immediate gratification. Last year's movie Hope Floatsattempted to salvage a positive attitude toward life in the face of adultery, divorce, and depression. The movie preaches that no matter what happens, we must go on with our lives. Hope is the flotsam of a world where bad things happen to people all the time for no reason. With no moral center, it's the best we can do. But from the biblical worldview, hope doesn't float, it is an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19). Our hope is set deep and keeps us from the emotional rolling seas of social successes or political defeats. The most interesting characteristic of hope is its effect on other people. They notice our hope in a world of despair and want to know its reason (1 Peter 3:15): why we care; why we smile; why we love; why we keep going. In 1980 at Lake Placid, the United States defeated Russia to win the Olympic gold medal in hockey. What makes this game so memorable for my family is that we did not see the original broadcast of the game but watched a replay after we knew the score. What a game! It was back and forth the entire time. But no matter how badly the game was going for the United States, we were never discouraged. We knew who won in the end. So, things are not so bad after all. We know who wins in the end. This view of life is no pie-in-the-sky escapism but how we are meant to live. C. S. Lewis remarked that biblical hope motivates true Christian activism. "If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither."

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