Hope. It’s a tricky word, isn’t it? I must confess I used to be suspicious of it. I found the word too vague, too intangible. I used to see it as little more than wishful thinking, as do many people.
And yet, as I came to see, this is not the view of the New Testament. Hope is a foundational theme, one of the great outcomes of what we believe. You’ll find the word used no less than 53 times, and here is perhaps its greatest moment – hope is connected directly with God himself. St Paul encourages to us to see our Lord as ‘the God of hope’.
Biblical hope is not just wishful thinking: it is the confident expectation that things will be better than they are: that things will be put right, made whole, that our future with God is secure. As St Paul wrote these words the church, though spreading rapidly, remained a tiny minority in a pagan culture, had already faced some persecution, and was just a few years away from a much greater and more violent oppression under the Emperor Nero. To the outside world they were fragile and insignificant, and those who chose to follow Christ were likely to be ostracised from their ‘home’ culture.
How they needed hope! And Paul reminds them that they have just such a hope, indeed they worship (and place their trust in) the ‘God of hope’. And hope is a good parent, because it produces great children: joy and peace. Knowing that, somehow or other, by the grace of God everything will be alright helps us to take the great challenges of life in our stride, and not be overcome by them: we can find unexpected joy, and the peace ‘that transcends understanding’.
And true hope is infectious. I love the phrase ‘overflow with hope’. A life full of hope ‘spills out’ to those around us. It uplifts people, raises spirits, and speaks beautifully (without words) of the truth of what we believe. Paul calls this deep sense of hope a true work of the Spirit – indeed something that needs the Spirit’s power to be a reality in our lives.
In these challenging days, this verse is a great prayer to pray: not just that we would know this true hope for ourselves, but that we would overflow with hope. May our lives spill out into the lives of our families, neighbours and colleagues, as the God of hope fills us today with peace and joy.