Last Sunday night I hoped the Denver Broncos would defeat the New England Patriots in a National Football League game. (They did! 😉 ) I had no certainty that they would. Yes, the game was played in Denver (home field is always a big advantage in the NFL) and yes, New England (as the announcers interminably reminded the watching audience) had a number of offensive players hurt. And yes, the Patriots were playing at altitude on a short week of rest. But those factors did not guarantee Denver a win. I still hoped, not knowing how it would all turn out.
In many respects, you could say my position was one of wishful thinking. Not that my wishing could have any bearing on the outcome, but I had no certain knowledge and merely wished that the result I wanted would be the one that prevailed.
Happily it did!
But my hoping for a Denver victory on Sunday night is about as far from the hope a Christian has as possible, given the similarity in the dictionary definitions. The Bible links hope and faith in Hebrews 11:1 and both have nothing to do with “hoping against hope” or wishful thinking.
Rather, the writer specifies that faith is tied to assurance and hope to conviction.
There’s a certainty about both those words. They remind me of Elisha’s position when his city was surrounded by an enemy army and he told his servant not to be afraid.
Uh, seriously, Elisha? I think there’s good cause to be afraid.
Except, Elisha saw what his servant didn’t—the host of heaven amassed against the enemy. So Elisha wasn’t making a foolish statement, and he wasn’t hoping against hope that things would turn out all right. He wasn’t exercising wishful thinking in the face of insurmountable odds. He was, in fact, exercising faith. He had the assurance that God’s army outnumbered the enemy. He had the hope built on conviction that God would not forsake him.
Even though outwardly nothing had changed. From where his servant sat, their situation couldn’t have been worse. They didn’t have the arms or the men to fight against the enemy and they didn’t have the resources to withstand a siege. All seemed lost.
It’s that “seemed” word that makes all the difference, because how things seem apart from God aren’t actually how they are.
Things undoubtedly seemed bleak to very-pregnant Mary when she had to follow Joseph to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, running for their lives with her little son. How could she know that for centuries people all across the globe would read about those frightening, uncomfortable, dangerous trips and give God glory because of His protection and care, because of fulfilled prophecy, because of the evidence of the humility of God’s Son, born in a manger, on the run before He could even walk.
Did Mary have hope? Did she envision herself raising her infant to become a man? To become the Savior of the World? That night I imagine she had hope despite the pain of childbirth. After all, the angel had told her she would bear a son. He wouldn’t lie. So she had assurance that this birth, even in a stable, would bring little Jesus into the world. And yet, she still had to bear the pain. She still had to run for her life when the angel told them to flee to Egypt. And she still had to witness her son die on a cross.
Hope is not wishful thinking. And it is not assurance that all will be without trouble or pain. But hope, when placed in God and His Son Jesus, gives what we all need: assurance that our sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb, that God has adopted us into His family, that we are no longer under condemnation, that God has given us His mercy and grace, and that we have a future to look forward to.
There’s a verse in Jeremiah that all too often is misused. Jeremiah is assuring the people of Judah who have been exiled to Babylon that God has not forgotten them, that they have a future and a hope despite the fact that they’ve been captured. This is not a promise of perfect health and untold wealth as some assume. But Christians can claim this promise for what it is: God’s declaration that our destiny is in His hands.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
We may face “captivity” in the here and now, but we have the hope of heaven—the assurance of things not yet seen, the conviction that He who promised is able to bring it to pass.