In 1 Corinthians 13:13, we read that faith, hope, and love are three qualities that abide—the greatest of which is love. We read about the importance of love in this chapter and many other places, and we read about the importance of faith in Hebrews 11 and many other places. But where do we go to understand hope, and why it is necessary for us to hope? What is it that hope provides to the life of a Christian? Let us briefly examine what the Bible says about hope in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 and about what happens in its absence.
Lest you sorrow as others who have no hope
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, Paul addresses a very important aspect of our hope as Christians by saying, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Here Paul is telling the brethren of Thessalonica that there are people who despair because they have no hope in the resurrection, and that those who have died in faith will be resurrected at the return of Jesus Christ.
This is not the only time Paul ties resurrection and hope together. In Hebrews 6:13-18, Paul states about God's blessings: “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’ And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all disputes. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” Because God cannot lie we can trust Him to keep His promises of a better world tomorrow, of a world without the effects of sin and corruption, a world without abuse, without disaster, without sorrow or evil.
The importance of maintaining this hope cannot be emphasized strongly enough for, as Paul says, the resurrection is vital to our faith. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:13-19).
There are several different points that can be made from that passage. For one, our forgiveness for sins depends on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. His resurrection as the firstborn from the grave (Colossians 1:18) as the wave-sheaf offering opens the faith to us as the firstfruits of the family of God. For another, the reality of resurrection is the promise of judgment. This can be both good and bad. The reality of God's judgment means we will either have our sins wiped away by the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, or we will be condemned. On the positive side, though we may suffer in wrongs now, the reality of the hope we hold means we will be partakers in the same consolation as Christ of eternal life in God’s kingdom. “And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation” (2 Cor. 1:7).
A disorder of hope
One of the more vexing problems that human beings have to deal with is the question of why bad things happen to good people. We look around at the sorrow and suffering in this world, and we wonder why innocent children are abused by their relatives, why people suffer for years with horrible diseases without having deserved their suffering. This world is not fair, it is not just, and as much as we would wish it were so, it appears beyond our powers at this present time to make it so. It is only the hope we have that God will make things right in this world or in the world to come that allows us to patiently endure the trials and suffering of this life.
In writing about recovery from child abuse, practicing psychologist Dr. Diane Langberg described the aftereffects of abuse as a disorder of hope. Suffering often robs us of the basic hope that life will get better. If all we have known is trouble and suffering, then it is difficult to imagine life without either; however, this is what the Bible describes in the new heavens and new earth. Depression, itself often a handmaiden of abuse and other problems, is an emotional black hole where light and hope may not exist at all, nor can light and hope safely enter.
Even less traumatic events such as illness, the loss of a job, or the breakup of relationships can lead to the loss of hope because one's own hopes and dreams and plans have been dashed. If our hope is to endure, it must be built on that which is sure and certain and not that which is fragile. We must build on the rock of Christ and not the sandy soil or our own plans and expectations (Matthew 7:24-27). We must also realize that God can restore and renew what has been damaged or harmed. After all, God's family is ample evidence that God is in the fixer-upper business—of making the desert blossom like the rose, of making the foolish wise, the weak strong and the base ones noble—all so God’s glory can be recognized for what it is and not confused with the vainglory of mankind.
Hope: a necessary virtue
Therefore, in light of the various aspects of this mortal life that can rob us of hope for a better and brighter world tomorrow, let us remember that we need to hope in order to endure. For we are all aware of what must be endured in this unjust and imperfect world, and it is only the blessed hope of the resurrection of glory and the blessings of God for obedience and patience that give us the strength we need to rise up and go about our lives day after day. Let us not sorrow as others who have no hope, and let us remember that God, who cannot lie, has promised that we will be raised incorruptible to reign as kings and priests as part of the family of God if we endure to the end. Let us therefore hope and not despair.
For more information on the hope of the resurrection, please request a copy of our booklet: The Gospel of the Kingdom.