What is Christian hope?

2017 Kansas sunset, Coronado Heights

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19).

Once, I received an email at my church account that claimed to be from a TV network.  According to the email, they were seeking Mennonite couples for a “Wife Swap” episode.  The email went on to spell out that they were looking for Mennonite families “because of their views on simplicity, peace and their hopeful outlook towards the world.”

I didn’t send them any names.  It sort of seemed like part of my pastoral job description to shield my flock from this sort of thing.

Whether or not the email was authentic, I found it interesting that its senders seemed to have taken the time to learn a thing or two about Mennonites.  At our best, I think they’re right: we Mennonites profess simplicity, seek to be people of peace, and hold something of a hopeful outlook towards the world.

Yet in my experience, that hopeful outlook mentioned in the network’s email is hardly unique to Mennonites.  I recently took a retreat on the theme of hope at the Benedictine monastery in Schuyler, Nebraska, and I’ve been mulling over the meaning of Christian hope ever since.

Hope is a virtue, cemented into the Christian worldview along with faith and love in Paul’s epic teaching in 1 Corinthians 13.  The apostle Peter defined Christians as those who had been birthed by baptism “into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).  John pointed toward the future hope of being conformed to the image of Christ (1 John 3:2).  To be a Christian is to be a person of hope.

But what exactly are we hoping?  Having our best laid and most righteous hopes dashed strikes me as one of the doorposts of maturity.  Nobody arrives at spiritual adulthood without wincing across a few crushed hopes, without experiencing hopelessness.  And our hopes change over time, accommodating to or challenging the possibilities of our lives.  Our hopes grow richer in some ways as we age in Christ.  We focus on different things.

At its core, it seems to me that Christian hope is the assurance that God is leading us into his goodness.  Hope isn’t that God will grant us our every desire–some of our desires will go unrealized.  Some will prove childish, spiritual dead-ends–even destructive.  Yet neither is our hope in God divorced from our desires.  King David went so far as to claim that if you trust in God, God will “give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).  Part of the trick is cultivating God-shaped desires.

Jesus is our hope, the sure and steadfast anchor of our souls, because he anchors us in a reality that stands at odds with the infinite ways that things can fall apart, daily and cosmically.  Jesus’ resurrection is testament to God’s power and commitment that transcends the terrifying shakiness of human life.  It’s on the basis of the resurrection that, along with the psalmist, we dare to claim “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).  It’s on the basis of resurrection that we learn the courage to hope.

 

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