November 15, 2017

Hope Versus Hope

There are certain verses in the Bible that, in their beauty and phrasing, snatch my attention and curiosity every time I read them. One of those is a portion of Romans 4:18: In hope he believed against hope. The "he" in the phrase is Abraham and the "hope" to which Paul refers is that Abraham would one day see, with his 99-year-old eyes, a son to call his own.

In hope he believed against hope. Over and over, I read and repeat it to myself under my breath, letting it settle deep inside. That phrase, it seems to me, describes the very essence of what it means to be a Christian. There is one hope, and then there is a very different hope, and they contrast and even contradict each other, fighting for prominence in our hearts. The Christian life is one big fight: hope versus hope. To which hope will we turn in belief?

Abraham believed against earthly hope. In other words, he didn't believe in what he could see or touch or make rational sense of. He could have. He could've considered his physical body, his wife's womb, his circumstances, or his past life experiences and pronounced judgments on what could or couldn't or would or wouldn't happen. A 99-year-old producing a baby? This baby producing nations? Ha.

If Abraham had hoped in the things of this earth, he would inevitably come to hopelessness. Hopelessness is the end of earthly hope. Hopelessness is actually a form of hope, because it causes one to place his or her full weight on faulty hopes, find those hopes crumbling beneath them, and then believing with certainty that hope doesn't exist at all.

Abraham's age may have actually helped him believe God, because the promise of a child to a 99-year-old was so absurd that it was laughable. It often takes us a lifetime to recognize and admit that our earthly hopes are crumbling beneath us and have always been crumbling. But Abraham had lived a lot of life, and he knew that earthly hopes couldn't hold him.

So Abraham chose the absurd hope. He didn't look to himself or to his circumstances; he instead looked with spiritual eyes at God, the one "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist." He hoped in what he couldn't see with his physical eyes, because he hoped in an unseen God.

Hope versus hope.

We have this same choice every single day and in every thought and situation: by which hope will we live? I've faced it recently in parenting. In light of what I desire for my children to become, I can hope in their education, in my own efforts to teach and discipline them, or in trying to keep them safe and protected. I find myself most often placing my hope in control. If I can control everything they see and do, or if I can control their circumstances, I believe I can do a supernatural work in their hearts and grow them up into godly men.

But this is no hope! I am, figuratively speaking, a 99-year-old barren woman. I have no ability to produce spiritual crops in my sons. I am not my own hope.

And you are not yours.

This is the fight of the Christian life: to get our hope off of ourselves or our circumstances and onto our unseen God.

An earthly hope is crumbling, forever slipping out of our grasp, destined for hopelessness. These feelings I've wrestled with of restlessness, of worry, of fear--these are the feelings borne from the wrong hope.

But hope in God breeds faith and security. It is not the hope we speak of when we say, "I hope I'll get to see my friend tomorrow," as if it might or might not happen. Hope in the Bible is a sure thing, a guarantee. True hope--a hope that will hold us--is a guarantee spoken by a God who doesn't lie.

The guarantee is that we've been given a Son to call our own. In him, we have forgiveness of sins. Through him, we have an inheritance waiting for us in heaven. By him, we have help and power through his indwelling Spirit now in this time. We are never without hope.

Earthly hopes will seduce us away and promise us things that they cannot give. Our own flesh will cause us to doubt the very forgiveness Christ promised. We are prone to falling back into the pride of believing we're able to produce spiritual fruit or correct the injustices in this world, that our hope is in ourselves.

What will we choose? Will we in hope believe against hope that God is at work now and that one day we will see him with our own eyes? We now look for him through a glass dimly, but one day hope will fade away completely, because hope will no longer be needed.

We will have a Son to call our own. And we will see him with our own eyes.