Moving Toward Hope

As we begin our transition from hopelessness to hope, recall research that kicked off this exploration. We saw the significant impact of hopelessness on every facet of our existence. Let’s take a look on research regarding hope.

Researchers have identified significant benefits of hope. Studies have shown that hope leads to life satisfaction, positive mental health, purpose, harm avoidance, confidence, productivity and resilience.[1] The positive outcomes related to hope stretch into inter-personal relationships, social health, psychological adjustment, academic achievement and human flourishing.[2]

The wellness effect of hope does not stop there. Research has shown shocking physical health outcomes related to hope. Higher levels of hope have been shown to have positive effects on adjustment from brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, breast cancer and even pain tolerance.[3]

Once again, the research highlights the importance of hope. This intangible reality is critical in our lives. Hopelessness must be combatted with hope. Who would not want the outcomes listed here? This body of research also pushes us toward a more nuanced discussion of hope. It begs a number of questions that will serve our forward progression.

Is there an overlap in biblical and psychological discussions of hope? Should we make distinctions between hope as a fixed reality and hope as wanting a certain outcome? Is there such a thing as false hope? Is there such a thing as temporal hope? Should we distinguish between our experiences of hope and hope as an object? Is there any hope apart from saving hope? Does biblical hope contain the benefits claimed in this research?

If our assessment of hopelessness is accurate, hope is far more than a human benefit. It is a saving need. If hopelessness is directly tied to the fall and our painful inheritance as sons and daughters of Adam, it follows that hope would be connected to redemption and rescue. Hope alone can unravel the effects of hopelessness and heal the rupture of despair.

As we explore the biblical data on hope, the questions above will find answers and our grasp of this theme will expand and deepen.

[1] Dedova, “Meaning in Life and Hope as Predictors of Positive Mental Health,” 193.

[2] Katherine Kandaris, “The Moderating Effect of Hope on the Relationship Between Emotional Approach Coping and Flourishing in College Students.” College of Education (DePaul University, 2013), 23.

[3] Kandaris, “The Moderating Effect of Hope…” 23.

Hopelessness compels us toward Hope

Hopelessness is a mighty force. We reject the promise of God for peace, hope and salvation and exhaust ourselves trying to relieve our hopelessness. We devise our own plans for getting hope. I will find hope in a relationship. I will find it in a job. I will find it in possessions. I will find it in power. I will find it in pleasure. I will scour the earth. I will use every resource in my power to rid myself of hopelessness. I know this road, it’s a dead end. From what we have seen, this posture is the root of our problem not the solution. We know the ache for hope, but as we stiff-arm the God of Hope it remains evasive.

In despair, we reject the promise of God for joy, purpose and an eternal future. Such promises are too good to be true. Such promises are simply not true. Despair retreats from God and lives without grasping for hope. “Despair, too, presupposes hope. ‘What we do not long for, can be the object neither of our hope nor of our despair’ (Augustine). The pain of despair surely lies in the fact that a hope is there, but no way opens up towards its fulfillment.”[6]

God’s Word cuts through the noise. He speaks clearly and authoritatively about our hopelessness. He defines it for us. Does God’s four-fold description of hopelessness speak to you? Are you without Jesus? Do you know his people? Are his promises yours? Do you have God in this world? Do you recognize hopelessness in your active rebellion or in your passive despair?

Hopelessness should drive us to hope. But we must know where to find it. Empty promises of hope abound. God’s Word gives us the path. It points us the right way. It directs us to the Triune God. Amid despair, there is hope; a certain, fixed, unfailing hope that will anchor your soul. This is good news. I need an anchor. If such stabilizing news existed, would you not long to hear it?

Hopelessness creates an appetite for hope. It makes us ache for relief. Embracing our brokenness, owning our sin and facing the fact that life is desperately messy is foundational to receiving the gift of hope. We must start here, but we cannot stay here. Hope awaits. We have spent ample time outside of Eden. We must press forward to Bethlehem and onto Jerusalem.

[6] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 7.

The Intention of the Cross in 1 Peter

There is nothing more intentional than the cross. It was the Triune design mapped before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28, 2 Tim 1:9, Eph 3:11). It was an eternal plan with infinite ramifications and boundless reach.

The New Testament exhausts language, metaphor and story as it strives to capture the profound glory and impact of God taking a cross for his lost world. Eternity will run out of time before we unpack the depths of God’s grace and kindness expressed toward us in the cross (Eph 2:6-7).

1 Peter speaks to a number of explicit intentions of the cross. He does not keep his talk on Calvary in the theoretical. He speaks of the cross as a ransom, a merciful tool to create a people, a penal substitution, a glorious exchange and a healing. His view of the cross is rich and varied. He moves from these atonement models to the direct implications.

Notice his language of divine intention and purpose in this four texts. Sit in these for a while and you will be encouraged.

  • “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1 :19-21).
  • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:9-10).
  • He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet 2:24-25).
  • For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Pet 3:17-18).

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Church

The presence of the church in the world is intended to be a tremendous source of encouragement. It is for encouragement that we gather and it is encouragement that we are called to bring to the world.

The book of Hebrews tells us that encouragement is an important means of safeguarding one another and developing perseverance in the faith.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).

Daily encouragement is the remedy for the slippery slope of unbelief, hardness of heart and falling away from God. This slope is a reality for everyone one of us. I cannot count the number of times I have come to church on a Sunday morning with a rock for a heart. I have felt the slippery slope—the slide into unbelief and callousness. I have also felt the softening touch of God’s Spirit as brothers and sisters encourage me. We need each other. Encouragement is designed to smashScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM the rock heart that can so easily overtake us.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says to “encourage the fainthearted.” The word translated fainthearted means “little souled.” The idea is that our circumstances, pain, suffering and discouragements can deflate us, they can press in on us to such a degree that our capacity for hope dwindles.

Encouragement infuses hope into our hearts, it expands the walls of our soul again. It increases our capacity for hope once again. When we gather, when we encourage one another, when we communicate the gospel promises to each other again and again—this is what happens.

We need each other. This life of faith thing is a community endeavor.

 

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Creator

Encouragement is an underestimated force in our lives. It has the power to redirect our steps, change our future, eclipse our past and fill our present with courage. Scripture calls us to the great work of infusing hope in others through encouragement. In the next four posts we will develop a biblical framework for thinking on and practicing encouragement.Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM

When you think about the most encouraging character in the Bible who comes to mind? Barnabas. Guaranteed it’s Barnabas. He was so encouraging that they renamed him “the son of encouragement.” But you see, Barnabas is a pale reflection, a faint whisper of the Greatest Encourager.

When building a framework you start with the foundation.

Take a look at this text from Romans 15:5-6, it provides the starting point for our discussion.

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Encouragement in this verse is a descriptor of the character and nature of God himself. It does not merely say that God does some encouraging here and there. It says that he is the Encouraging God—the God who encourages…we are talking about a posture, a way of existing, a way of interacting.

The most encouraging being in existence is God himself. The storyline of Scripture is replete with examples of a God who encourages, who infuses hope and who instills courage. How encouraging were the strolls with God in the garden? How encouraging was it when the original rebellion was met with clothing for naked bodies and a promise of a Serpent-Crusher?

What about the safety of the ark, the rainbow reminder that the earth will never be flooded again? What about the promise and birth of Isaac? Don’t forget the Exodus, the taking of the promised land, the provision of the tabernacle and temple, the rise of righteous kins, the comforting words of the prophets and the promises of a coming Messiah.

The Encouraging God bursts onto the scene in the incarnation—he comes walking in the flesh. In Christ we see what divine encouragement looks like. We see it in his words and actions. Read the gospels, watch Christ interact and you will see encouragement. In the good news we find our greatest encouragement, something we will see further into our blog series. The New Testament letters are filled with encouragement flowing from the gospel for the church.

The New Testament ends with a burst of encouragement. The return of Christ, the future hope, the new heavens and new earth, the end of sorrow, the presence of God, and an eternity of hope! In the next few posts we will look at four pillars of encouragement throughout Scripture. There are many anchor points we could focus on, but I have chosen four that explicitly link the language of encouragement to their themes. At the root of all encouragement is our Creator, God himself. He is the great Encourager—everything we will explore flows out of his heart and his activity.

Round 2: Why does God’s Indwelling Presence Matter?

We explored some of the implications of indwelling in the past post. We talked about reframing our discussions and thinking on the presence of God, increasing our appreciation for the cross and resurrection, and heigtening our worship of the Triune God. This post concludes our work together on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I have chosen a few more important implications to consider. Here we go!

  • Our thoughts on belonging and assurance must be deepened. The theme of belonging runs through this doctrine like a thread. The New Testament repeatedly makes the connection between God’s residence in us and his ownership of us. God is deeply interested in giving his people assurance and confidence in their status before him. This status has objective and subjective dimensions. Through the cross-work of Christ we are justified and declared righteous through Christ. Through Christ the Father views us as blameless, perfect, and sinless. This is an objective reality that we believe by faith. Faith stumbles on this truth because our subjective experience is not yet consistent with our position before God. This is where the Holy Spirit comes into the picture. The New Testament helps us understand that the Holy Spirit translates objective truths into subjective experience. In other words, through the cross we are guaranteed forgiveness and righteousness, the Spirit helps us experience the love of God behind this and the certainty of the grace he has given us there. By indwelling us the Spirit is a constant companion working into our hearts confidence, assurance, hope, and helping us hold fast to the truth that we are sons and daughters of God. He helps us feel and know what is true.
  • Our dependence on the Spirit in gospel ministry must mature. The Indwelling Spirit requires a reframing of how we think about and do ministry. The New Testament made plain that doctrinal faithfulness, empowerment and moral integrity are grounded in the Spirit who lives in us. Cultivating this understanding leads to a quiet trust and more precise dependence on God the Spirit. For example, times of study, prayer, writing, preaching, counseling, and conversation can be engaged with a posture of reliance and listening. The acknowledgment that God is close and present to support gospel advancement and ministry changes everything. This awareness, designated as “keeping in step with the Spirit” (Eph 5:25), is a tremendous encouragement for those called to be ambassador’s for Christ in any ministry context. Consistently recognizing and verbalizing dependence to the Holy Spirit along with expressing gratitude is one way we grow and mature in ministry.
  • Our hope and certainty in the future must be strengthened. The power of the Holy Spirit residing in us is highlighted when we look at our promised future. The New Testament is clear, resurrection awaits. This is our hope. As Graeme Goldsworthy would say, our resurrection is “future history.” It is certain. The doctrine of indwelling is an anchor of the soul as we consider this hope. The Spirit is responsible for living in Christ and raising him from the dead. He is responsible for creating life out of nothing, for breathing that creative breath on the Son that enabled him to walk out of the tomb the third day. This same Spirit now dwells in us and guarantees that he will bring life to our mortal bodies and that death will not have the final word. Resurrection is coming and the Holy Spirit is responsible for making it happen. There are many uncertainties when it comes to the future, but the most important things are not up for grabs when the Holy Spirit resides in us.

These are just a few of the important implications of the doctrine of indwelling. I am convinced there are many more worth our time and consideration. Take for example the concept of humility. Indwelling is a rich resource for thinking through what humility looks like. Or we could look at transformation. Indwelling would force us to consider interesting dimensions of both the passive and active dynamics of change. Or we could explore the language of grieving or quenching the Spirit in connection with indwelling, would this change how we view our sin? There is much more here, I encourage you to explore and think deeply about this tremendous gift!

Quotes by George MacDonald

C.S. Lewis called George MacDonald his “master.” Lewis considered himself a student of MacDonald and attributed significant influence on his writing. Here are a few quotes from MacDonald.

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.”
“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”
“Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.”
“Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly.”
 “To try to be brave is to be brave.”
“Come, then, affliction, if my Father wills, and be my frowning friend. A friend that frowns is better than a smiling enemy. ”
 “The world…is full of resurrections… Every night that folds us up in darkness is a death; and those of you that have been out early, and have seen the first of the dawn, will know it – the day rises out of the night like a being that has burst its tomb and escaped into life.”

After Darkness, Light: The Gospel in Poem

I have spent the last few days thinking and thinking on the theme of God breaking through darkness with light. We see this thought woven throughout Scripture and finding ultimate expression in the gospel. Here is a poem that attempts to capture the gospel angle on light conquering darkness.

After Darkness, Light

“Post Tenebras Lux.” This is the Latin phrase that became the motto of the Protestant Reformation. It literally reads, “After darkness, light.” It referred to the breaking forth of gospel light that had been largely veiled throughout the middle ages. The motto is rich because it captures a profound truth about God’s mode of operation. Darkness is often, if not always, the prelude to God’s blinding grace.

From the first page of Scripture to the last, God is conquering darkness with light. In the beginning, he speaks piercing light into the blackness. In the end, God’s presence eclipses the sun and gives light to the new earth. In the between, we find God’s light consistently following darkness. In the kingdom of God, darkness will never have the final word.

Note a few texts that capture this hopeful theme.

“But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me” (Micah 7:7-8).

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:4-5).

“Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous” (Psalm 112:4).

Darkness is certain in this life…painfully inevitable. For the people of God light is just as sure. The night will always bow to the day. Death will ultimately be swallowed by resurrection. Every experience of light conquering darkness in the present is a foretaste of the time when darkness will be no more. That day is coming…may it come soon. If you are walking in the darkness, hold tight, light is coming.

Richard Bauckham on Heaven

I recently read a short article on the topic of heaven by New Testament Scholar, Richard Bauckham. He does a good job of identifying three main biblical strands for thinking about the certain future of the Christian. This is one topic I would like to be thinking about far more often than I do. Here is a section of the article.

To think about heaven we need imaginative pictures. We cannot expect to know in literal terms what heaven will be like. Attempts to describe it literally are usually banal, and easily provoke the response: why should I want that? Who wants to spend eternity sitting on a cloud playing a harp? Heaven must be inconceivably different from our experience here and now. So we need pictures that evoke a sense of something that far transcends this life.

The Bible and the Christian tradition offer us three main pictures of what heaven is all about. If we put these three symbols together, we shall get quite a good idea of what the Christian understanding of human destiny is.

The first is the hope of the vision of God. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” said Jesus, “for they shall see God.” God, whom we now know so imperfectly, we shall then experience directly. We shall enjoy him as the ultimate fulfilment of all human desires. We shall worship him with the kind of rapturous attention that a powerful experience of beauty or love can evoke in us in this life. Because God is infinite and we were made to enjoy him, heaven’s joys will never be exhausted. We shall find eternal fulfilment in God.

But heaven will not be just me and God. God made us to find fulfilment in each other as well as in him. So the second picture of heaven is the city of God, a perfect human society, in which all our dreams of really adequate human relationships will be fulfilled.

The book of Revelation, in its great vision of the New Jerusalem, which is the Bible’s fullest account of heaven, combines these two symbols in a picture of the city in which God himself will dwell with humanity. It will be a perfect human society because it will be centred on God.

But God’s purposes reach beyond even a human society finding its true fulfilment in him. They extend to God’s whole creation. Our third picture of heaven, the kingdom of God, is the broadest. It looks for the time when God’s rule over his whole creation will finally be perfected. All evil, suffering and death will be overcome. God’s world will be as he has always intended it to be. And when all the evils and imperfections hat obscure God in the world as it now is have been transcended, then all creation will perfectly reflect God’s glory. As the apostle Paul put it, “God will be all in all.”

So the Christian hope is that the whole of God’s creation will find its eternal destiny in God. Although, up till now, I’ve used the term “heaven” to refer to theChristian hope of life after death, because this is usually done, we can now see that this term can be rather misleading. It might suggest that our destiny is to leave the world behind and join God in some otherworldly, purely spiritual heaven. The Christian hope is much better than that. It is for the union of heaven and earth, for God’s transforming presence throughout his creation.

All this should widen our horizons beyond the narrowly individual terms in which we so often think of heaven. Our hope as individuals is to share in God’s great triumph over all evil and death, to have a place in his cosmic purpose for the whole creation, to find our own fulfilment in God in the context of a world centred on God and transfigured by his glory. But, since this is what heaven is all about, of course we cannot hope to share that destiny unless we place ourselves now, as individuals, within God’s purpose for his world. To enjoy the vision of God then we must begin to centre our lives on God now. To enter the city of God then, we must seek his will for human society now. To enter the kingdom of God then, we must place ourselves under God’s rule now and seek his kingdom in all reality.