“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure…. Some day, God willing we shall get in.” C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 13.
As Christians we have this strong hope—what Lewis referred to as a “longing” for some other place. It is heaven that we long for and God has built this longing, this hope, within out souls.
Hoping for Something
If I say “I hope it rains tomorrow” but the weather man has indicated a zero chance of rain, not even my “faith”, should give me confidence that it will rain.
Hope, it turns out, encapsulates confidence and the confidence is built on some factual evidence. If I hope that it will rain and it is more than wishful thinking, there must be some supporting meteorological evidence.
So, if the weatherman says, “there is a 100% chance of rain tomorrow,” I should carry an umbrella and wear appropriate clothes. Still, it has nothing to do with hope—I have been told with certainty and supporting evidence that it will rain tomorrow, so I am expecting it, not (necessarily) hoping for it.
Louw and Nida(1988:296) say that hope means “to look forward with confidence to that which is good and beneficial.” Paul said, for example, he was on trial because of his belief or hope in the resurrection (Acts:6). He told us to wait with patience for the hope we have through the Scriptures (Romans 15:4). We expect some benefit from God when we hope in Him for something. However, there are times when we shouldn’t expect or hope for something: for example, payback when lending to those in need (Luke 6:35).
The first time we read of hope in the Bible, there is good evidence that what is hoped for will happen. In Genesis 32:4-6 Jacob, after a long absence, is about to meet his brother Esau and he sends ahead elaborate gifts with “the hope of gaining your favor.” But Jacob is also afraid because he and Esau have not been on good terms. Nevertheless, his plans is to curry Esau’s favor with the gifts and thus gain his forgiveness. He meets Esau and bows to him seven times and his hope of a friendly relationship is granted.
Another story about hope concerns the widow Naomi and her daughters-in law, who are also widows. One, Ruth wants to stay with her mother-in-law, but Naomi tells her to go back to her home because she does not see any hope for her own remarriage, or the marriage of Ruth in a strange land. Naomi has no evidence that she can base her hope upon. It turns out that she is wrong.
The Bible is full of stories of hope and hopelessness and sometimes our lives reflect both as well. We hope that our children will be healthy, well educated, follow God, and stay out of trouble. It is a reasonable hope, but it is also one in which we, as parents, play a part. We can hope they will be healthy but if we feed them only candy and pop, they won’t be. We can send them to school, but if we don’t help them learn, our hopes for a good education will be in peril.
Job, in his sickness, passed his days without hope (7:6; 13:15; 17:15 and throughout much of the story). David, on the other hand, is full of hope in his Psalms (33:20; 42:5; 62:5; 71:14, and so on), depite his forays into fear about his enemies.
Job’s friends did not offer him much hope; instead, they reminded him of all the wrong things he was thinking and how God was punishing him. As a result of his visitors, Job had no hope and no blessing. He said, among other things that: there was “no hope of dawn” (3:9).
Although God “gives hope to the poor and silences the wicked” (5:6), why should Job “go on living when I have no hope?” (6:11) He felt that “My days pass by without hope, pass faster than a weaver’s shuttle” (7:6). And, even more desperate, “I’ve lost all hope, so what if God kills me?” (13:15). Job’s only hope “is the world of the dead” (17:13) because “[my] days have passed; my plans have failed; my hope is gone.” (17:11)
However, Job does express hope: he “hoped for happiness and light, but trouble and darkness came instead” (30:26). Why was he so sad and troubled? He wanted to put his hope in God, and once again praise him, as his savior and God (42:5; 42:11; 43:5; etc) because “He saves those who have lost hope” (34:18), a dilemma that continues through out Job’s story.
This is probably what many of us have felt at some time, but we must pray to the Lord to give us hope in his blessings, so that we remain faithful and do not lose heart.
The book of Romans in the NT expresses hope: God’s approval is evident in that he creates it (5:4). We may be disappointed in his hope (5:5), but by It we are saved (8:24). Hope will keep us joyful (12:12) because God is the source of our hope, which will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit (15:13).
Hebrews 11:1 tells us that hope depends on faith and the end result may often be something that we cannot see. We may see what we hope for, but we cannot see the faith that gives us hope. Christians find their hope in Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of their faith. An atheist will base any hope he has on chance, or that his genes will work out for his benefit. Here hope depends on different perspectives. Hope is one of the big three: faith, hope and love, as chronicled in 1 Corinthians 13: 13, wth the greatest of the three being love.
Love is expounded throughout the Scriptures, but especially in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. Faith is exemplified by many people in Hebrews ll, and hope is everywhere in the Bible—it is translated that way 239 times, including 42 times in the Apocrypha.
In the New Testament, hope is mentioned mostly by Paul, for example 12 times in Romans and 14 times in the Corinthian letters. The verses Christians often turn to for hope are 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians. Both of these passages deal with the hope we have after we die. In fact, Paul says in 15:19 that “If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world.”
The kind of hope that the world offers us is different in kind. Not only does it offer us vague hopes, as about the weather, but also fond hopes about our finances, health, children and favorite sports team. Stir in hopes about winning the lottery, a good marriage—defined differently by diverse groups of people—or that our cancer is benign. Such hopes are mainly for our earthly benefit.
Getting or Giving a Blessing
Our hope in the future can result in a blessing, which is often found in our thinking: Like David, we hope that God will bless us. David uses the word bless 43 times, blessing(s)/blessed 14 times, filling his songs with the “blessings of the Lord.” Here is one example:
Psalm 112:1: “Happy [blessed] is the person who honors the Lord,
who takes pleasure in obeying his commands.” (GNT)
David goes on to claim that the good person’s children will be powerful, his descendants will be blessed and that his family will be wealthy and rich. Not only that, the man “will be prosperous forever.”
Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way: some of our children go wrong, they or their children may become wayward, and they probably will not end up rich. So why does David throw these pearls before us? Is he making hyperbole of what blessings entail? How do we go about interpreting these add-on verses?
David isn’t done: he tells us that a good person who runs his business generously and honestly “will never fail”; he will not get worried or afraid and will help the needy. His enemies will be defeated and the wicked will see how well off the good man is and be angry and have their own hopes dashed.
David apparently had a lot of enemies—thousands of them—and it seemed to him often that they were all against him (Psalm 3:1, 6; 5:8), so he wanted them punished (3:7). He wanted them to “know the bitter shame of defeat” (6:10) and he was relentless in his contempt of them. He not only desired complete victory, but he wanted them to jealously see the banquet God prepared for him (23:5). He didn’t want those who hated him to gloat over him in defeat (35:19; 24; 38:16) and he wanted to pay them back—even having their bones scattered (53:5), instead of a decent or normal burial. He wanted their speech “confused’ (55:9), their heads beaten (68:12), bodies burned alive (97:3), and that they should die before their time. He has to remind himself that God is on his side (60:12; 61:3; 108:13; 118:7, 10), even though he seems to be sinking in mud (69:14) and his enemies are laughing at God (74:10, 18). David does not love his enemies—he hates them (119:39; 139:22). He wouldn’t mind if lightning killed them (144:6) if arrows didn’t. How do we read this man?
As I read the Psalms, I see David often praising God with his songs but also often cursing his enemies. Is that the way we are to live or is it a picture into the mind of a confused person? Perhaps it is a snapshot of the way we sometimes live—happy with the way God blesses us and disappointed or dejected when things don’t go well. It makes me ask: what is a blessing from God and why do we not always recognize it?
According to Louw and Nida (1998:442) in their Greek lexicon, to bless is “to ask God to bestow divine favor with the implication that the verbal act itself constitutes a significant blessing.” In other words, we would like our blessing to constitute significant speech acts, serving some useful function, like the words of Jesus did.
We hear speech acts every day: such things as greetings, requests, complaints, invitations, compliments or refusals. When Jesus said “be healed” he is saying something so that God (Jesus/Holy Spirit) will do something good for someone. When we bless someone, we need to keep in mind what we would like to see God do.
Commentators stick to the thought that it is the godly who bring blessings to their children and they are therefore remembered because of their influence and good reputation.
The blessings of the Lord brings happiness (another word often translated for blessing) and hope. Hope is therefore implicit in a blessing and, without it, there is no future blessing.
Hope and Blessings: A Final Thought
Think of how often we use the words hope and blessing. We hope for a healthy body, indeed we pray that our children and spouse will be well (and happy). Sometimes a person will say something like “I would give all that up for my health and strength,” indicating clearly the benefit of good health. Again, someone may say “God bless you” when we sneeze or even as an ending on our email. We may not really think about God blessing or helping the person in a particular manner—it is just something we say.
Words not only have meaning, they have power. To curse someone or something is a significant feeling, sometimes accompanied by an act meant to hurt or harm the person. The opposite should be true when we bless them: we should mean to help the person in some way.
I can hope that this study means something to someone, but I can’t be sure unless I am told. In the same way, God cannot be sure that we hope in Him unless we tell him so. That can be a blessing to both of us.